Once upon a time there was a species called "Rockefeller Republicans" - named after the former Governor of New York, presidential candidate in 1964, 1968, and 1972, and Vice President during Gerald Ford abbreviated presidency from 1974 to 1977 - who were moderate to left on social issues, center-right on economic issues, and (pro-business) globalist on foreign policy. The definition of "Establishment" has varied over the intervening years, affected by passions surrounding the Vietnam War and the myriad of politicians adhering to or, more frequently, castigating the term. Nevertheless, there remains a core of Republican leaders who align with the Chamber of Commerce, reflect a wealthy donor base, manage much of the party machinery, and look a lot like the old Rockefeller Republicans.
Their demise within the party did not begin with Donald Trump. The major socio-economic trend in the United States over the past 40 years has been the growing prosperity of the upper 20%, coupled with decline of real (after inflation) income by the broad middle class. Politically, as the Democrats have moved to the left, focusing their efforts on ethnic minorities and women, they have abandoned their traditional working middle class constituency. Particularly in the Midwest and Appalachia, these voters - having been abandoned by the Democratic Party - changed parties, fueling the Republican take-over of legislatures and governorships in states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Nationally, they have demanded a seat at the table in the form of the Tea Party, the Freedom Caucus, and now Donald Trump.
It is natural that the Republican Establishment - politicians such as the Bush entourage, former Speaker John Boehner, Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Flake of Arizona, and their intellectual vanguard such as George Will and David Brooks - would take offense. This is not just a traditional liberal / conservative conflict; it reflects culture, geography, and economic status. It reflects the transfer of Republican political power from the elites to the middle class. It affects lobbyists whose connections no longer work. It affects corporate political affairs vice presidents who are no longer connected to those in power. It affects editorial writers who have not kept up with their audience. The Never Trumpers frequently are motivated by what they see as principle (and it is easy to get there with all of Trump's personal foibles), but the underlying factor is the shift of power from Upper Class Republicans to the newly-arrived Middle Class Republicans
Beyond egos, personal careers, and Trump's serious personal shortcomings, there are several issues where the new "party of the middle class" receives outspoken criticism for heretical departure from the Republican Establishment:
1. Foreign Trade. The traditional Republican Establishment thinks in terms of moving capital around the world to wherever it gets the best rate of return; the stockholders don't care whether the workers are in Toledo or Bengladesh; they want some help in opening foreign markets for their products, but they would just as soon make them in other countries and ship them back. When Trump lowers corporate income tax rates the Establishment cheers; when he tries to stop the $800 billion outflow of dollars to pay for trade imbalances, they want the government to let the free market work, never mind that our trading partners play by different rules. There is little difference between the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times in criticizing Trump's willingness to disrupt the losing status quo in trade, and Establishment Senate Republicans want to legislate away Trump's negotiating authority. The new Middle Class blue collar Republicans? They want the jobs here. And thoughtful people of good will ask how long we can sustain $800 billion annual trade deficits anyway.
2. American subsidization of Pax Americana. When the United States came out of World War II with a dominant, undamaged manufacturing infrastructure we established a benign world order which fit our economic, military, political and cultural objectives - the United Nations; the World Trade Organization; NATO / CENTO / SEATO; the World Bank; the International Monetary Fund. With 5% of the world's population, 25% of the world's Gross Domestic Product, and 35% of the world's military spending we could afford to pay for the wars and subsidize a major portion of the organizations. Establishment Republicans would say "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." The new Middle Class blue collar Republicans? They are tired of their children dying in Afghanistan; want roads, bridges, housing, and reservoirs built in America; and are willing to do their share if our allies do likewise. And thoughtful people of good will ask how long we can sustain trillion dollar budget deficits anyway.
3. Promotion of working class America. The preponderant majority of Americans share the belief that all people are created equal in a moral and political sense. Unlike almost all other countries, the common ground connecting Americans is a desire for liberty and opportunity rather than an ethnic commonality. Conceptually, almost all would support the rule of law and the need to take personal responsibility. There are, however, nuances of difference between Establishment Republicans and the new Middle Class blue collar Republicans. After decades of being castigated as racist, homophobic, and mysogenist for any hint of political incorrectness, the Republican Establishment buys the program. The blue collar Republicans, who are more directly affected by illegal immigration and street crime, are less willing to place compassion above the law.
In the cacophany that is America's political media it has become easy to understand the hysteria on the Left about everything Trump. It is more difficult to sort the voices on the Right between those reflecting the downgraded Republican Establishment and those reflecting the new blue collar Republican voters. Even on Fox there are some of each; editorial policy of the Wall Street Journal is suspicious of Trump's economic policies and acumen; most of the expeditions sent out by traditional media to interview Trump voters do not listen, and thus do not understand. The support and composition of the party has changed, and the media has not caught up. For some enterprising entrepreneurs this represents opportunity.
This week's video is a discussion with former Democratic VP Joe Lieberman about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York socialist who has been called the "future of the party" by Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez.
bill bowen - 7/27/18