Monday, July 06, 2015

Rust-Belt Revivalists Can’t Save the GOP

While most Republicans remain in a frenetic race to out pander themselves to the Christofascist element in the GOP base, one cadre of the GOP believes the party's salvation lies in pandering to the most disgruntled elements of white working class voters in the hope that these efforts will boost voter turnout for this demographic and provide a deus ex machina in the 2016 presidential elections.  Conservative columnist Michael Gerson at the Washington Post calls these members of the GOP "Rust Belt Revivalists" and makes the case as to why this effort in the GOP is doomed to fail.  Here are column highlights:
Attempting to analyze political statements by Donald Trump is often a high dive into a shallow pool. But a number of conservative commentators are making the jump, discerning hidden virtues in his depiction of marauding immigrants intent on crime and rape. 

While finding Trump’s words “crude and reprehensible,” the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol thinks they summarize a “genuine concern about illegal immigrants.” “For all its crassness,” says National Review’s Rich Lowry, “Trump’s rant on immigration is closer to reality than the gauzy cliches of immigration romantics.” 

Some of this is surely an attempt to make the best of a bad situation, the equivalent of: “My, that gangrene is such a pleasing shade of green.”

One brand of Republican reformers — the Rust Belt revivalists — believes the GOP has been too dominated by corporate interests and needs to identify more directly with the economic frustrations of working-class voters. Trump is the cartoon version of this view — preaching protectionism and accusing immigrants of “destroying the fabric of the country.” But Rick Santorum makes a similar economic case, proposing to cut immigration by 25 percent as part of a plan (according to his Web site ) “to protect American workers from foreign labor that is taking jobs that Americans could otherwise hold.”  

In this strategy, there is an inherent tension between appealing to the white working class and appealing to immigrants. . . . the white working class remains the larger group of voters. A concentrated focus on their concerns, the argument goes, might open a path to victory through Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania. 

Another group of reformers — the advocates of a demographic pivot — also believes the Republican Party is too closely identified with the boardroom and the country club. But they look at the declining percentage of white voters . . . and argue that the Republican coalition will need to be browner in order to win in places like Florida, Colorado and Nevada. 

It will come as no surprise that I view the arguments of the Rust Belt revivalists as less compelling and more dangerous. 

First, the effect of immigration on native-born wages, while not imaginary, is easily overstated. . . . The problems of the working class will not be solved by immigration restrictionism.

Second, the advocates of a demographic pivot, even if they are not currently right, are eventually right.  It may well be possible in the 2016 presidential election for Republicans to pump up the white vote enough to secure a victory. But we are reaching the natural limits of that strategy.

Third, the strategy of appealing to the white working class by criticizing immigration raises the risk of racial polarization. Enthusiasm for this approach sometimes has reasons other than economics. There can be ugliness beneath, as Trump demonstrates. 

Finally, a political appeal that encourages division would worsen the GOP’s main political problem: a durable impression that it does not care for the country as a whole. As the old Southern strategy fades, it would be a terrible mistake to replace it with a different form of fear and exclusion.
Republicans have an opportunity to craft an agenda of economic mobility — to reward work (through wage subsidies), strengthen families (with a larger child credit) and encourage skills (with education reform) — that could appeal to both the white working class and rising minority groups, instead of pitting them against each other.  It is the way that Republicans can win, and deserve to win.

I think Gerson is correct on his analysis of the "rustbelt revivalists, yet I suspect that they are the faction that will win out in the near term - or at least until the GOP has lost yet another presidential election cycle. 

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