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“Behold, The Arsonist Is Here”: How Donald Trump Turned Republicans’ Smoldering Resentments Into A Dumpster Fire

The Republican Party has long faced a simple yet vexing mathematical problem. While there are benefits that come with being the party that represents the interests of large corporations and the wealthy, executives and rich people won’t give you enough votes to win a majority come election day. So one of the ways the GOP has handled the problem is with a deflection of discontentment: There’s an elite you should resent, they tell ordinary people, but it isn’t the people who control the country’s economic life. Instead, it’s the cultural elite, those wine-sipping, brie-nibbling college professors, Hollywood liberals, and cosmopolitan multiculturalists who look down their noses at you and tell you your values are wrong. The best way to stand up for yourself and stick it to those elitists is to vote Republican.

It’s an argument that dates back to the 1960s, but for the first time since then the GOP has a presidential nominee who doesn’t quite get it. Not steeped in the subtleties of Republican rhetoric and the goals it’s meant to serve, Donald Trump is blasting in all different directions, even hitting some Republican sacred cows.

There’s nothing coherent about Trump’s arguments — he’ll say how terrible it is that wages haven’t grown, then say that we need to get rid of the federal minimum wage. But he has taken the core of the GOP’s trickle-down agenda — tax cuts for the wealthy and a drastic reduction in taxes and regulation on businesses — and tossed on top of it a garnish of protectionism, promising to impose tariffs on foreign competitors and initiate trade wars until other countries march right over here and give us back our jobs. He’s even feuding with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Trump’s offensive against international trade is apparently based on the theory that it will help win working-class white voters to his cause, particularly in Rust Belt states where manufacturing jobs have declined in recent decades. And this has his party very nervous.

“Mr. Trump wants to make Republicans into the Tariff Party,” laments The Wall Street Journal editorial page, house organ of America’s economic masters. “He’ll have a better chance of winning the economic debate if he focuses on the taxes, regulations, and monetary policy that are the real cause of our economic malaise.” In other words, stick to the stuff the people in the board rooms care about.

That’s not to say that Trump’s infantile ideas about trade would actually produce any benefit to working people — on that basic point, the Journal has it right. And there have been Republicans who advocated protectionism before; some of them even ran for president. But they lost. The party’s nominee always understood which side its economic bread was buttered on.

All the while, though, the audience for an explicitly economic anti-elitism remained in the party, a product of their success at bringing in whites of modest means with appeals to cultural and racial solidarity. Those downscale voters may have been told that upper-income tax cuts were the best path to prosperity for all, but they never quite bought it. One recent poll showed 54 percent of Republican voters supporting increasing taxes on those making over $250,000 a year, a result that’s enough to make Paul Ryan spit up his Gatorade.

There’s a way to handle that, which is to turn up the dial on cultural resentments. But it has to be done carefully in order to minimize the collateral damage. Republicans always knew that nativism and racial appeals had to be fed to these voters carefully, couched in dog-whistles and euphemisms. But Trump just hands them an overflowing glass of hate and tells them to tilt their heads back and chug. A secure border? Hell, we need to build a 20-foot high wall because Mexicans are rapists. Strong measures to stop terrorism? Just keep out all the Muslims.

Part of what has Republicans upset is that Trump’s nativism narrows the cultural argument down to ethnic and racial identity. They may have condemned “political correctness” to get people upset at liberal elitists telling you what to think, but in Trump’s version, rejecting it means indulging your ugliest impulses, taking every rancid thought about foreigners or minorities that pops into your head and vomiting it right out of your mouth in triumph.

Once you unleash that stuff, it’s hard to pretend that it’s anything other than what it is. So the Republican elites — who, let’s be honest, usually bear more of a cultural resemblance to the liberals against whom they whip up all those resentments than to the working-class whites whose votes they want — look on in horror as Trump ruins everything. He lays the GOP’s racial appeals bare so they can’t be denied, and he can’t even be trusted to keep faithful to all of the party’s economic agenda. If you can’t rely on an (alleged) billionaire to keep all that straight, what hope does your party have?

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, July 2, 2016

July 2, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP, White Working Class | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Does Bernie Sanders Really Have Working-Class Support?”: Premise Sanders Is The Tribune Of The Working Class Is Full Of Holes

The idea that he’s fighting for an oppressed and dispossessed working class is central to Bernie Sanders’s identity as an old-school New Dealer closely aligned throughout his career with the labor movement and prone to diagnosing all the country’s problems as a product of economic inequality. Class struggle is also central to his critique of the Democratic Party as an institution that has traded its New Deal heritage of working-class solidarity — especially by promoting trade agreements and financial liberalization — for a mess of Wall Street pottage.

Indeed, some political observers have suggested that Sanders and Donald Trump represent parallel wings of a working-class uprising against political and economic elites. And Trump himself is fond of arguing that, if Bernie is denied the Democratic presidential nomination, his working-class supporters might drift over into the Trump column.

This all represents a nice, dramatic “narrative.” But the premise that Sanders is the tribune of the working class is full of very large holes.

One problem is the punditocracy’s habit of conflating “working class” with “white working class.” No one believes Sanders is sweeping the African-American or Latino working class, which matters quite a bit because those are the elements of the working class that are tangibly part of the Democratic electoral base.

But even within the “white working class,” Sanders’s support levels have been exaggerated by a failure to look at some crosscutting variables, as explained at Vox by Jeff Stein:

Because young voters also tend to have lower incomes, the massive age gap between Sanders and Clinton has sometimes looked to observers like a gap in economic class, according to political scientists Matt Grossmann and Alan Abramowitz.

But the most salient divide in the primary is not between rich and poor. It’s between young and old — and between white and black.

I’d interject here that an income-based definition of “working class” has always been problematic because earnings vary so much with age; a young college grad destined for the upper class may temporarily make less than a seasoned union member engaged in manual labor. It’s one reason most analysts use an educational definition for working class as people who do not have a college education (there’s a whole separate argument about how to classify people with “some” as opposed to no college, but let’s not go down that rabbit hole). But even an educational standard is problematic to some extent because college students don’t have a degree any more than their proletarian cousins.

As Stein shows, however, by any definition, class quickly fades as a factor in likelihood to feel the Bern as opposed to age:

If Sanders’s “white working-class” voters aren’t just college students, you’d also expect him to be doing better among downscale middle-aged white voters than rich ones.

But this turned out not to be true: Low-income white people in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s did not break for Sanders. There was little difference in support by income among older voters, with higher-income older white voters actually more likely to support Sanders, according to Grossmann’s Michigan data.

“My main concern is that the image of Bernie-supporting older poor people who’ve lost their factory jobs to trade is not supported,” Grossmann says. “I’m least supportive of the idea that there’s a population of white, older workers who lost their jobs and are now supporting Sanders. There’s very little evidence of that.”

Similarly, Abramowitz ran a multivariate analysis to help figure out this question. Abramowitz looked at a large survey data set and asked: What forms of identity actually predict support for Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton?

“It was age, and beyond that nothing mattered. Maybe ideology mattered a little bit,” he said. Income was not a factor.

Now, maybe none of this matters and Sanders’s youth appeal indicates he’s winning the fight for the future of the party even if his claim to represent decades of working-class grievances against capitalism isn’t so clear. But at a minimum, a proper understanding of Bernie’s base should reduce fears that his following is transferable to Trump. To put it more sharply, the idea that the actual working-class voters Sanders claims to represent view Clinton as the devil isn’t borne out by the numbers. According to Andrew Levison, who’s conducted the most intensive analysis I’ve seen of the appeal of various candidates to the white working class, Sanders isn’t running that far ahead of Clinton in this demographic to begin with. And of course, if you add in the black and brown working class, any Sanders advantage disappears entirely.

Having said all this, there’s nothing wrong with a candidate’s appeal being based on age rather than class; best I can tell, no candidate has ever run up the kind of numbers among young voters in a competitive presidential nominating contest that Sanders is regularly achieving this year. It’s an impressive accomplishment with obviously large implications for the future Democratic Party. But it’s not a tale of workers rising together to shake off their chains.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 20, 2016

May 23, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, White Working Class, Working Class | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Working Class Isn’t All That White Anymore”: It’s Inaccurate To Talk About Trump’s “Working-Class Appeal”

From the point of view of the attention being paid to it in analysis of both parties’ presidential contests and the general election as well, you could possibly call 2016 the Year of the White Working Class. Self-styled populists of the left and the right are arguing that Democratic and Republican party elites are reaping the whirlwind from years of sacrificing white-working-class interests to upper-class economic and cultural preoccupations, as evidenced by the strength of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

There are good reasons for this preoccupation. Among Democrats there is a sort of moral obligation to ask why a category of voters once fundamental to the New Deal coalition has strayed so far. And the conflicting interests of the white-working-class and big-business branches of the GOP have been evident for a good while and have this year finally blown up into a shocking presidential nomination and a potentially deep party split.

But it’s important to remember, as Jamelle Bouie reminds us at Slate this week, that while the white working class is interesting, the working class as a whole is a lot less white than it used to be. And ignoring the views and interests of the black and brown elements of the working class is as big a mistake empirically and morally as ignoring non-college-educated voters generally. Marshaling data from the Economic Policy Institute, Bouie notes the trends that are steadily eroding the stereotypes of “blue-collage” wage earners as white folks:

As recently as 2013, more than 60 percent of working-class Americans between 25 and 54 years old were white. If you extend the age bracket to 64, that increases to nearly 63 percent. But in 2014, those numbers—for the first category—dropped to 59.6 percent. In 2015, it was 58.8 percent. This year, non-Hispanic whites are 58 percent of the working class, a historic low.

The idea of the “working class” being composed of the horny-handed sons of toil is a bit archaic as well:

[C]lose to half of all working-class people—across all races and ethnic groups—are women working in service jobs as well as traditional blue-collar professions.

So loose talk about Trump cutting deeply into the working-class vote misses much of the picture:

The truth is that it’s inaccurate to talk about Trump’s “working-class appeal.” What Trump has, instead, is a message tailored to a conservative portion of white workers. These voters aren’t the struggling whites of Appalachia or the old Rust Belt, in part because those workers don’t vote, and there’s no evidence Trump has turned them out. Instead, Trump is winning those whites with middle-class incomes. Given his strength in unionized areas like the Northeast, some are blue collar and culturally working class. But many others are not. Many others are what we would simply call Republicans.

I’d add that a myopic approach to the working class that limits it to white people sometimes infects analysis of Democratic primaries as well. Bernie Sanders gets a lot of props for his appeal to the white working class, and is sometimes viewed as Donald Trump’s primary competitor in this demographic. While Sanders has (by my back-of-the-envelope calculation) carried non-college-educated white voters in 14 of the 24 primaries and caucuses with exit polls (Hillary Clinton won them in six states, and they were basically tied in the other four), he’s lost non-white non-college-educated voters just about everywhere. That shouldn’t be a footnote. Nor should the frequent comments on the political left about Clinton betraying “the working class” and now suffering the electoral consequences go unchallenged without some attention being paid to her robust support among working folks who happened to be non-white or non-male.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 6, 2016

May 9, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Republicans, White Working Class | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Lone Ranger”: Not Much Evidence Donald Trump Can Win The Presidency On The Shoulders Of The White Working Class

It took the chattering classes a while to figure out that Donald Trump had a particular appeal to white non-college-educated Republican primary voters. But once they figured it out, some leaped to a very different proposition: that Trump could ride an army of white working-class voters to the White House despite his many electoral weaknesses, via boffo performances in normally Democratic-leaning midwestern states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa (all carried twice by Barack Obama).

A closer look at the data shows Trump not quite so dominant among non-college-educated white voters (particularly outside the South), and not adding enough value in this one demographic compared to what he loses in others.

The most sophisticated version of the argument that Trump could have a narrow path to victory comes from the estimable Ron Brownstein, who believes that all other things being equal, Trump might reverse some narrow Democratic margins in the Midwest by reversing equally narrow Democratic margins (atypical for the country as a whole) among white working-class voters. I emphasize the qualifier because it’s not all that likely that all other things will be equal with Trump at the top of the ticket; he will surely lose some 2012 Romney voters, perhaps a lot of them.

But it’s important to remember that Republicans are already winning non-college-educated white voters by a big margin. Mitt Romney won an estimated 62 percent of this vote in 2012. Any Trump “bonus” will have to come either from improvements in that number, increased white working-class turnout (against the stiff wind of that group’s declining share of the population), or from some significant redistribution of the white working-class vote by region or state.

One broad indicator of the very different picture you get by shifting from white working-class voters within Republican primaries and white working-class voters generally is in the new ABC/Washington Post analysis of Trump’s favorability ratios among different demographic groups. He comes in at 47-52 among non-college-educated whites, a truly terrible performance not just in terms of his perceived strengths but as compared to Romney’s actual support in the last election.

But there’s some more granular evidence as well of the limits of Trump’s white working-class vote in a competitive environment in the very midwestern cockpit where it should matter most. At the Democratic Strategist (disclosure: I have a long association with that site), Andrew Levison has examined the relative performance of all candidates from both parties in three recent midwestern open primaries, and shown that Trump’s share of the total white working-class vote ranged from 26 percent in Illinois to 30 percent in Ohio (where he actually lost the primary to John Kasich). These numbers should reflect whatever appeal Trump has among marginal voters — i.e., those he can uniquely bring to the polls. Moreover, despite significantly higher overall turnout, the Republican field with Trump in it registered less than overwhelming margins among white working-class voters in Illinois (56 percent) and Michigan (58 percent). Republicans did win 67 percent in Ohio, almost certainly as a product of the appeal not of Trump but of home-state governor John Kasich.

Even if you only discount the GOP percentage of white working-class voters in these midwestern states a few points to reflect across-the-board turnout factors that probably had little to do with any one demographic, it’s not looking like the kind of tsunami that could come close to offsetting Trump’s probable drop in Romney-level support in other parts of the electorate — most notably in Republican-leaning women and highly educated professionals. The ABC/Washington Post analysis put Trump’s favorability ratios at 14-85 among Hispanics, at 18-80 among voters under the age of 35, at 29-68 among white women, and at 23-74 among white college graduates. This is a long, long way from looking like a winning coalition.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, April 1, 2016

April 3, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, General Election 2016, GOP Primaries, White Working Class | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Republican Elite’s Reign Of Disdain”: The White Working Class Failed Itself

“Sire, the peasants are revolting!”

“Yes, they are, aren’t they?”

It’s an old joke, but it seems highly relevant to the current situation within the Republican Party. As an angry base rejects establishment candidates in favor of you-know-who, a significant part of the party’s elite blames not itself, but the moral and character failings of the voters.

There has been a lot of buzz over the past few days about an article by Kevin Williamson in National Review, vigorously defended by other members of the magazine’s staff, denying that the white working class — “the heart of Trump’s support” — is in any sense a victim of external forces. A lot has gone wrong in these Americans’ lives — “the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy” — but “nobody did this to them. They failed themselves.”

O.K., we’re just talking about a couple of writers at a conservative magazine. But it’s obvious, if you look around, that this attitude is widely shared on the right. When Mitt Romney spoke about the 47 percent of voters who would never support him because they “believe that the government has a responsibility to take care of them,” he was channeling an influential strain of conservative thought. So was Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, when he warned of a social safety net that becomes “a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.”

Or consider the attitude toward American workers inadvertently displayed by Eric Cantor, then the House majority leader, when he chose to mark Labor Day with a Twitter post celebrating … business owners.

So what’s going on here?

To be sure, social collapse in the white working class is a deadly serious issue. Literally. Last fall, the economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton attracted widespread attention with a paper showing that mortality among middle-aged white Americans, which had been declining for generations, started rising again circa 2000. This rising death rate mainly reflected suicide, alcohol and overdoses of drugs, notably prescription opioids. (Marx declared that religion was the opium of the people. But in 21st-century America, it appears that opioids are the opium of the people.)

And other signs of social unraveling, from deteriorating health to growing isolation, are also on the rise among American whites. Something is going seriously wrong in the heartland.

Furthermore, the writers at National Review are right to link these social ills to the Trump phenomenon. Call it death and The Donald: Analysis of primary election results so far shows that counties with high white mortality rates are also likely to vote Trump.

The question, however, is why this is happening. And the diagnosis preferred by the Republican elite is just wrong — wrong in a way that helps us understand how that elite lost control of the nominating process.

Stripped down to its essence, the G.O.P. elite view is that working-class America faces a crisis, not of opportunity, but of values. That is, for some mysterious reason many of our citizens have, as Mr. Ryan puts it, lost “their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.” And this crisis of values, they suggest, has been aided and abetted by social programs that make life too easy on slackers.

The problems with this diagnosis should be obvious. Tens of millions of people don’t suffer a collapse in values for no reason. Remember, several decades ago the sociologist William Julius Wilson argued that the social ills of America’s black community didn’t come out of thin air, but were the result of disappearing economic opportunity. If he was right, you would have expected declining opportunity to have the same effect on whites, and sure enough, that’s exactly what we’re seeing.

Meanwhile, the argument that the social safety net causes social decay by coddling slackers runs up against the hard truth that every other advanced country has a more generous social safety net than we do, yet the rise in mortality among middle-aged whites in America is unique: Everywhere else, it is continuing its historic decline.

But the Republican elite can’t handle the truth. It’s too committed to an Ayn Rand story line about heroic job creators versus moochers to admit either that trickle-down economics can fail to deliver good jobs, or that sometimes government aid is a crucial lifeline. So it ends up lashing out at its own voters when they refuse to buy into that story line.

Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that Donald Trump has any better idea about what the country needs; he’s just peddling another fantasy, this one involving the supposed power of belligerence. But at least he’s acknowledging the real problems ordinary Americans face, not lecturing them on their moral failings. And that’s an important reason he’s winning.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The Opinion Pages, The New York Times, March 18, 2016

March 20, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, White Working Class | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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