Two stories from this month's The Week illustrate the battle brewing within the Republican Party between its numerically tiny donor class and the much larger voting block for whom good jobs and traditional values matter. The battle has its roots in the 1980 presidential election when the GOP, with a ticket led by Ronald Reagan, made a deal to get the votes of social conservatives and the working class (those Reagan Democrats we heard so much about). The deal went like this: Give us your votes and we will maintain the traditional values of society and work that make for a genuine safety net.
Now it's a generation later and the rich who fund the GOP have never had it so good. But instead of keeping their deal, they used their new profits to undermine traditional values -- supporting groups like Planned Parenthood and underwriting campaigns to overturn traditional marriage. Economically, they have lied and lied again about doing anything on illegal immigration, because it helps to force down the price of labor and they want cheap labor. They don't mind that the family wage has been replaced by the two-income necessity. They look on American workers as a commodity -- not as citizens who have a share in the governance of the nation. They shout them down with campaign cash, while exporting their jobs overseas -- screwing the very people they count on to wear a uniform and defend them, just to make a fast buck.
To add insult to these injuries, many Chamber of Commerce Republicans have made the ultimate fashion statement and have crossed over to the Democrats, whose donor class is now at least as rich and insulated as the GOP's. Social conservatives and the working class are beginning to understand that they got screwed on the deal. What's next is anyone's guess, but don't be surprised if their opposition to things like a millionaires' tax turns to support -- and why would they support a gas tax hike on commuting workers just to please a Chamber of Commerce that consistently screws them?
By-the-way, is there a Republican politician anywhere in America who can hope to win an election without support from social conservatives and the working class? Without the muscles of this electorate, the GOP -- for all its money -- really is just a numerically weak and tiny group.
We spoke with a conservative activist who made this prediction: "Over the next few years, every state party is going to have a fight between its rich, wannabe cosmopolitan Whigs and the blue-collar traditionalists who count for a big hunk of the Republican Party's electoral base. It will come down to how you take your coffee. The always fashion-conscious Whigs hang at expensive coffee houses and some have even adopted the cult of the coffee enema. The traditionalists, we like average joe and we'll continue to sip ours, thank you very much."
Both columns are the work of journalist Michael Brendan Doherty of the U.S. edition of The Week news magazine. So here is his take on the showdown brewing between the patricians and the plebs:
The conservative movement has a lot of ideas for improving the life of a typical coke-sniffer in Westport, Connecticut. Let's call that man Jeffrey.
The movement wants to lower Jeffrey's capital gains taxes. It also wants to lower corporate taxation, which intersects with his interests at several points. It wants to free up dollars marked for Social Security so they can be handed, temporarily, to Jeffrey's fund-manager in-law, who works in nearby Darien. The movement has sometimes proposed giving Jeffrey a voucher to offset some of the cost of sending his daughter to school at Simon's Rock. If his household income falls below $400,000, Marco Rubio would give him a generous tax credit for each of his offspring. The movement also constantly hectors universities and media outlets to consider ideological diversity. Jeffrey reads these agitations and thinks of his libertarian-leaning daughter.
And, if Jeffrey gives some money to conservative causes, figures in the movement will at least pretend to cheerfully listen to him as he says that the problem with Republicans is all these religious wackos and their pro-life nonsense. That stuff bothers his daughter. Privately, many of them would like to take Jeffrey's advice.
The conservative movement has next to zero ideas for improving the life of the typical opioid dependent who lives in Garbutt, New York, outside of Rochester. Let's call him Mike.
Maybe they will make a child tax credit refundable against payroll taxes for Mike. He could get a voucher for a private school, but there aren't many around and he can't make up the difference in tuition costs anyway. In truth, the conservative movement has more ideas for making Mike's life more desperate, like cutting off the Social Security Disability check he's been shamefacedly receiving. It's fibromyalgia fraud, probably. Movement spokesmen might consent to a relaxation of laws against gambling near Mike's congressional district, so that Mike can get a job dealing at a blackjack table. More likely Mike ends up on the wrong side of the table, losing a portion of the SSD check to Sheldon Adelson. Finally, the movement's favorite presidential candidate would like to put American armed forces ahead of a Sunni army outside of Homs, Syria, to fight Bashar al-Assad, ISIS, and al Nusra simultaneously. Russia too, if they don't respect a no-fly zone. Mike's daughter will be among the first round of American women to get a draft card. Mike reads this news and thinks, "Your momma wears combat boots" used to be an insult.
If the conservative movement has any advice for Mike, it's to move out of Garbutt and maybe "learn computers." Any investments he made in himself previously are for naught. People rooted in their hometowns? That sentimentalism is for effete readers of Edmund Burke. Join the hyper-mobile world.
And for the second column:
I recently suggested that the Republican Party, and the conservative movement, offer next to nothing to working-class Trump supporters. There are no obvious conservative policies that will generate the sort of growth needed to raise the standard of living for these working-class voters. Instead, the GOP's Powers That Be make a great show of obedience and deference to the center-right donor class, even when that donor class' preferred policies — endless war, unlimited immigration, and slashing tax burdens on the wealthy — have almost no relation to conservative ideas or even popular opinion.