An interesting summary of how the GOP “elite” has become disconnected with its voters. Referring to The New York Times article published today that dives into this topic in more detail, this article in The Washington Post adds some analysis:
But this one anecdote captures this whole phenomenon as perfectly as any other that I’ve seen. Last March, GOP lawmakers met privately to figure out how to sell the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which GOP elites support, to Republican voters who were suspicious of it:
For help, the lawmakers turned to Frank Luntz, the Republican messaging guru. For two decades, Mr. Luntz had instructed Republicans on how to talk about thorny issues. Do not say “estate tax.” Say “death tax.” Do not privatize Social Security. “Personalize” it.
Few issues were now as dangerous to them as trade, Mr. Luntz told the lawmakers, especially a trade pact sought by a president their voters hated. Many Americans did not believe that the economic benefits of trade deals trickled down to their neighborhoods. They did not care if free trade provided them with cheaper socks and cellphones. Most believed free trade benefited other countries, not their own.
“I told them to stop calling it free trade, and start calling it American trade,” Mr. Luntz said in an interview. “American businesses, American services — American, American, American!”
Most of the ingredients paving the way for the rise of Trump are on display here. GOP lawmakers, faced with the problem that economically struggling GOP voters might not believe freer trade would help them, asked for guidance on how to better message it. Luntz also personifies longtime Republican efforts to sell the GOP drive to end the estate tax (a boon mostly to wealthy families) and the longtime GOP drive to reform Social Security. Broadly speaking, the GOP elite agenda has included free trade deals, tax changes that would deliver windfalls to top earners, and entitlement reform that would reduce benefits, and for many years, Republicans have messaged these things as good for American workers.
Yes, many Democrats also have supported free trade deals, including the Obama-backed TPP, and yes, the Dem establishment is currently paying for that in the form of the Bernie Sanders challenge.)
But GOP voters don’t appear to believe this messaging any longer, if they ever did. A national poll of Republican voters conducted recently by political scientist Alan Abramowitz found that majorities of them favor raising taxes on the wealthy and oppose cutting Social Security and Medicare. The poll showed an overlap between Republicans who hold those positions and support Trump. Exit polls have also shown GOP voters are suspicious of trade deals.
I blame Democrats for not providing a more convincing agenda to these same voters as well. Blue collar people of any race or color — the “working American” — have been the natural constituency of the Democratic Party since the New Deal. They’ve been losing that demographic for years. Even though President Obama ran his 2012 re-election campaign with his focus almost completely on the middle class, they are not regaining ground because the policy benefits have just not been there (this is avoiding a whole conversation about whether an agenda can even be passed through a Congress controlled by the opposite party anymore).
The chaos of the Republican Party offers a unique opportunity to start winning some of that back. It’s unfortunate that this year, the Democrats are fielding a candidate who brings with her all the whiffs of oligarchy: family connections to the presidency, cozy ties to Wall Street, and great personal wealth built on leveraging connections when out of office.