This morning, the NY Times published a worthwhile report by Trip Gabriel, Republicans Won Blue-Collar Votes. They’re Not Offering Much in Return. His point was that GOP leaders want to capitalize on Trump’s appeal to the white working class-- 40% of union households and mucho progress in Latino communities-- without offering anything to advance the economic interests of the working class. You may remember Missouri insurrectionist Josh Hawley's famous tweet: "We are a working class party now. That’s the future." So why are Republicans doing everything they can to blockade and stall Biden's COVID-rescue package "which,' wrote Gabriel, 'is chock-full of measures to benefit struggling workers a full year into the coronavirus pandemic. The bill includes $1,400 checks to middle-income Americans and extended unemployment benefits, which are set to lapse on March 14." And the congressional Republicans have been dead set on preventing a minimum wage increase. Multimillionaire right-wing loon Ron Johnson (R-WI) is doing everything he can to stall all benefits to working families. Bad optics for Team Red?
Inside and outside the party, critics see a familiar pattern: Republican officials, following Mr. Trump’s own example, are exploiting the cultural anger and racial resentment of a sizable segment of the white working class, but have not made a concerted effort to help these Americans economically.
“This is the identity conundrum that Republicans have,” said Carlos Curbelo, a Republican former congressman from Florida, pointing to the universal opposition by House Republicans to the stimulus bill drawn up by President Biden and congressional Democrats. “This is a package that Donald Trump would have very likely supported as president.”
“Here is the question for the Rubios and the Hawleys and the Cruzes and anyone else who wants to capitalize on this potential new Republican coalition,” Mr. Curbelo added. “Eventually, if you don’t take action to improve people’s quality of life, they will abandon you.”
...Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster [added] "You’d better be spending a lot more time developing an economic agenda that benefits working people than re-litigating a lost presidential election. The question is, how long will it take the Republicans to figure out that driving out heretics rather than winning new converts is a losing strategy right now?"
...The 2020 election continued a long-term trend in which the parties have essentially swapped voters, with Republicans gaining with blue-collar workers, while white-collar suburbanites moved toward the Democrats. The idea of “Sam’s Club conservatives,” which was floated about 15 years ago by former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, recognized a constituency of populist Republicans who favored a higher minimum wage and government help for struggling families.
Trump turned out historic levels of support for a Republican among white working-class voters. But once in office, his biggest legislative achievement was a tax cut in which most benefits went to corporations and the wealthy.
Oceans of ink have been spilled over whether the white working class’s devotion to Trump had more to do with economic anxiety or with anger toward “elites” and racial minorities, especially immigrants. For many analysts, the answer is that it had to do with both.
His advancement of policies to benefit working-class Americans was frequently chaotic and left unresolved. Manufacturing jobs, which had continued their slow recovery since the 2009 financial crisis, flatlined under Trump in the year before the pandemic hit. The former president’s bellicose trade war with China hit American farmers so hard economically that they received large bailouts from taxpayers.
“There was never a program to deal with the types of displacements going on,” said John Russo, a former co-director of the Center for Working-Class Studies at Youngstown State University in Ohio.
He projects that once the economy snaps back to pre-pandemic levels, blue-collar Americans will be worse off, because employers will have accelerated automation and will continue work-force reductions adopted during the pandemic. “Neither party is talking about that,” Russo said. “I think that by 2024, that’s going to be a key issue.”
Despite Biden’s campaign framing him as “middle-class Joe” from Scranton, Pa., as a candidate he made only slight inroads into Trump’s support with white voters without college degrees, which disappointed Democratic strategists and party activists. In exit polls, these voters preferred Trump over Biden by 35 percentage points.
Among voters of color without a college degree, Trump won one out of four votes, an improvement from 2016, when he won one in five of their votes.
His inroads with Latinos in South Florida and the Rio Grande Valley of Texas especially shocked many Democrats, and it spurred Mr. Rubio to tweet that the future of the G.O.P. was “a party built on a multi-ethnic multi-racial coalition of working AMERICANS.”
After the Trump presidency, it is an open question whether any other Republican candidates can win the same intensity of blue-collar support. “Whatever your criticisms are of Trump-- and I have a lot-- clearly he was able to connect to those people and they voted for him,” said Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio, a Democrat from the Youngstown area.
Ryan is gearing up to run in 2022 for an open Senate seat in Ohio. He agrees with Trump about taking on China, but faults him for not following up his tough language with sustained policies. “I think there’s an opportunity to have a similar message but a real agenda,” he said.
As for Republican presidential candidates aspiring to inherit Trump’s working-class followers, Ryan saw only dim prospects for them, especially if they continued to reject the Biden stimulus package, which passed the House and is now before the Senate.
“The Covid-19 relief bill was directly aimed at the struggles of working-class people,” Ryan said, adding that Republicans voting against the package were “in for a rude awakening.”
Steve Phillips, writing this morning for The Nation, pointed out that there's a way for Democrats to win in Ohio again and I'm sure Ryan has read his piece, which emphasizes the creation of the kind of multiracial coalition that worked last year in Georgia and Arizona and already worked in 2008 and 2012 for Obama (who was savvy enough to ignore the moribund Ohio Democratic Party and do all the work with his own team).
Phillips pointed out that Ohio Democrats have been going about it wrong-- which is why they always lose and why the party is a shriveled up, useless and pathetic, as bad as the Florida Democratic Party. "Over the course of the past several years," wrote Phillips, "Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan has been a leading proponent of the wrong way. Ryan, who is likely to throw his hat in the ring for the Ohio Senate seat, made clear that his focus is on trying, as he put it in a recent MSNBC interview, to 'capture those working-class people who may have voted for Donald Trump.' He recently diagnosed the dire situation of Buckeye State Democrats by saying that '80 to 90 percent of the problem is and has been the national brand, the perception of what Democrats believe and stand for nationally on the coasts, versus what we stand for as Democrats in Ohio.' As someone who grew up in Ohio and now lives on 'the coast' in the lefty San Francisco Bay Area, I’m curious about exactly what parts of the 'national brand' Ryan bemoans. Were Black Lives Matter protests, for example, about coastal hot-button issues, or were they relevant to Ohioans worried about the well-being of young Black boys like 12-year-old Cleveland resident Tamir Rice, who was killed by the police? Let’s call a spade a spade. Ryan is talking about white people. He certainly wasn’t referring to Ohioans of color-- 84 percent of whom regularly voted Democratic last year. The actual-- typically unstated-- critique is that Ohio Democrats can’t win because white Ohioans think the party is too closely aligned with people of color. Or, in Ryan’s formulation, candidates must show the Trump voters that the election 'is about them' (emphasis in the original, at the 3:14 mark of the interview linked to above). About them. As opposed to caring about someone else, who is not like them and does not look like them."
Myriad case studies have now shown that white Trump voters are largely driven by racial resentment and anxiety about the country’s demographic changes, a phenomenon Joy Reid calls “demographic panic.”
Panic can drive voter turnout, and that is the under-appreciated story of 2020. While Trump lost support among some white women and suburban Republicans, he still increased his vote total by 11 million people. These were people panicked by the prospect of losing the leadership of the man working to make America white again. But, as the Georgia runoff election showed, without Trump on the ticket, Republican turnout dropped back toward typical levels, and the multiracial Obama coalition prevailed.
The problem Democrats face in seeking to secure the support of more white voters is not insufficient attention to economic anxieties. After all, if Democrats were so obviously not the party of working people, then why do so many people of color-- who, given this country’s “staggering racial disparities,” have far more reason to be economically anxious than even working-class whites-- consistently vote Democratic? The real problem facing Democrats in Ohio and other swing states is an unwillingness and inability to speak to the racial realities and demographic changes that animate white political behavior.
The way to win over white voters is not to downplay racial inequality and systemic racism but to confront it head-on and then highlight the common ground between people of color and their Caucasian countrymen. That’s what Obama did in his famous “race speech” in 2008 when incendiary clips of sermons from his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, inflamed the fears of white voters across the country. Obama-- against the advice of his white consultants-- grappled directly with the issue, telling white people that “your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.”
And then Obama won. In Ohio. Twice.
To be clear, challenging white voters to rise to their highest and best selves will not result in securing the support of the majority of white people. No Democratic presidential candidate has won the majority of whitessince Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965, telling a joint session of Congress and a national television audience, “We shall overcome.” Even Senator Sherrod Brown, the unicorn success story of Ohio Democrats, peaked at 47 percent support from whites in his 2018 relection campaign (against an unknown and underfunded candidate).
While following the high road won’t win the majority of whites, it can win enough of them to win. There is a meaningful minority of whites who always vote Democratic, embrace rather than fear cultural change, and support the idea of living in a multiracial democracy. Even while losing badly in Ohio in 2016, Hillary Clinton still secured 33 percent of the white vote. But that meaningful minority only gets to become part of the majority when paired with large and enthusiastic support of voters of color. Or, as Jesse Jackson said in his 1984 convention speech, “when Blacks vote in great numbers, progressive whites win. It’s the only way progressive whites win.”
Biden rebuilt one part of the Obama coalition in Ohio, increasing his share of the white vote to 39 percent, close to Obama’s 41 percent in 2012. Where he fell short was with voters of color, who made up just 16 percent of the electorate, down sharply from the 21 percent share they comprised in 2012.
And therein lies the answer. The right way to win is to massively invest in increasing turnout of voters of color. Obama’s campaign deployed 800 staff people to knock on doors, identify voters, and get them to the polls. Georgia has nurtured a network of community-based organizations with a presence in every county in the state. Arizona has created a coalition of dozens of organizations spanning the entire progressive spectrum from labor unions to organizations working in the Latino, African American, and Native American communities.
Democrats can absolutely hold, and even expand, their majority in the Senate, but it will require learning the right lessons and following the right path. That is how the left can beat the right in 2022.
And not only in Ohio. That's the trick to winning the Senate seats in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and maybe even Iowa and Florida as well. It's worth pointing out, as Matt Dixon and Gary Fineout did at Politico this morning, that Florida Senator-- and NRSC chair-- Rick Scott hasn't been making any headway with the MAGA mob, despite all his efforts to woo them. "The billionaire-turned-politician," wrote Dixon and Fineout, "is trying to build his own national brand ahead of a potential run for president, but some early stumbles-- including a recent pivot away from Trump-- aren’t endearing him with the base... Trump’s GOP is largely foreign to Scott, a former health care executive who embraces focus groups and adheres to the talking points of the day, not the off-the-cuff brashness Trump embraces. That, along with his well-known lack of charisma, could spell early trouble for Scott’s White House ambitions... Chris Hartline, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee who previously worked for Scott in his U.S. Senate office, said in a text message: 'Rick Scott is focused on one thing-- saving the country from socialism by winning back the U.S. Senate. Any suggestion or story beyond that is dumb.'"