REPUBLICAN WORKERS: THEY LOSE AGAIN
When we hold a presidential election, as we are this year, we are really hiring someone to do a job. The voters are a hiring committee, a hiring committee with a very large number of members. Those hiring committees have been to some degree split by an identification with political parties almost back to the beginning.
Before 1970, voters who worked in unionized industry, white southerners (following a tradition begun after the Civil War), and many more liberal, often college educated voters, who believed that government should work for the welfare of those less well-off, usually chose to hire Democrats.
Those who identified with owners and with ownership (think farm owners and small town business people) who wanted to keep tax rates low, and who were concerned about keeping government limited and honest, tended to vote to hire candidates nominated by Republicans. The stockholders and managers in corporations who had a disproportionate influence in the Party were careful to sound like small town business owners too.
After World War II, Republicans faced a real challenge. Franklin Roosevelt, the most successful Democrat of all, was elected in 1932 during the Depression. He then ran and won three more times (he died in 1945 just after his fourth election). Roosevelt over those twelve years put together a broad coalition of voters including many union members, most urban people and the white South. That Democratic coalition seemed to Republicans to doom them to remain a permanent minority.
The Republican answer fifty years ago was to target and to win over the white South. Alabama governor George Corley Wallace, an independent Democrat, carried most of the South in 1968. Richard Nixon borrowed Wallace’s racist approach and carried the white South in 1972 (Wallace had been shot and paralyzed). Working class white southerners began to move to the Republicans.
Eight years later the charismatic Ronald Reagan was able add northern union members to the mix. Winning over southern whites and northern white union members did allow Republican candidates to win presidential elections. It also put into the Republican “hiring committee” a large group of people for whom the Republicans could do almost nothing.
Republicans did need those people because their voting allowed the Party to win elections. They just couldn’t give them much (raising the minimum wage for example would hardly please the corporate owners who really controlled the national party). So, Republicans tried to hold their new working class members by claiming that they were being protected from socialism and from the communist menace. To hold the South, Republicans continued to quietly signal their preference for whiteness (concern with inner city crime got a great deal of verbal attention).
Traditionally, because of the constitutional separation of church and state, political parties tried not to actively involve religious groups in campaigns. But, by 1980 (when Ronald Reagan ran) that all went out the window. The Republicans went directly into churches and recruited their members to get out and campaign. Leaders of religious groups and organizations were welcomed to the White House. Many church members seemed to make being Republican a part of their religion.
That helps to explain where we are now: Donald Trump knew almost nothing about the government he was running to lead. He could only really activate followers who didn’t know much about it either, therefore, his famous rallies. What he has done is to split off those working class Republicans and their descendants from the traditional Republican Party.
It is easy to see why that happened. Suddenly, a powerful wealthy personality who “talks like we do” was landing his big plane and promising disappointed workers that they were about to become the center of the universe. Of course they responded. They are angry. They wanted revenge against those unnamed people in the “deep state” who had kept them from being better off. Donald Trump would clean out the Washington swamp and finally make things right!
What has really happened is that Trump has led them away from the Republican Party. They have been stolen. There is little talk of Republican principles anymore. There is not even going to be a party platform. Local Republicans at the state level will remain in office but the national Republican Party has had many of its working class supporters purloined away. They belong to Trump now.
Trump who is running for reelection is doomed to disappoint them again. He shows no sign of interest in giving his voters anything real. Even if he did he simply does not have the administrative ability to organize his huge government to do anything.
Still, the Republican Presidential convention which ends today has been almost entirely aimed at those “working class” voters that Donald Trump targeted in his famous rallies. Richard Nixon, who died in 1994, would be shocked to discover that many of the southerners he worked so hard to win over were now following a leader who has taken them away from the Republican Party that he so loved. It should be no surprise. The Republicans who won them over fifty years ago have offered them so little.
And, they are going to get very little now!