The white working class was an integral part of the FDR coalition that enabled him to win four straight presidential elections. The Democrats were the party of the working class of all race and color for decades, but that began to change around 1968 when Nixon defeated Hubert Humphrey. Watergate seemed to have halted further movement of the working class to the GOP until 1980 when Ronald Reagan skunked the Dems by attracted working class voters, especially white ones. A whole new concept of “Reagan Democrats” arose.
It carried through for George H.W. Bush in 1988 when he promised voters a third term of Reagan-style politics. Bush then blew it to pieces with his broken promise of no new taxes and his wobbling on the Second Amendment. In 1992 the Clinton victory seemed to be pushing the working class back into the arms of the Democrats. The same held true in 1996.
By 2000 the working class, both white and black, had grown weary of Clinton’s sexual peccadilloes in the White House, enabling George W. Bush to gain the presidency. Bush, like his father, was a disappointment to many, especially the white working class. “Compassionate Conservatism” was perceived correctly as little more than pandering.
Obama brought back a lot of white voters in 2008, including many working class voters seeking to prove they weren’t racist. The working class came roaring back to the GOP in the 2010 midterms causing the Democrats to lose six seats in the Senate and 63 seats in the House. Obama decided he needed to take a look at his voting coalition. The result was that the Obama administration washed its hands of the white working class, deeming it a hopeless cause to try and keep them.
Then Obama did something unusual. He went public with this new strategy. His spokesmen was Thomas B. Edsall who wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times on November 27, 2011, The Future of the Obama Coalition, in which he said:
For decades, Democrats have suffered continuous and increasingly severe losses among white voters. But preparations by Democratic operatives for the 2012 election make it clear for the first time that the party will explicitly abandon the white working class.
All pretense of trying to win a majority of the white working class has been effectively jettisoned in favor of cementing a center-left coalition made up, on the one hand, of voters who have gotten ahead on the basis of educational attainment — professors, artists, designers, editors, human resources managers, lawyers, librarians, social workers, teachers and therapists — and a second, substantial constituency of lower-income voters who are disproportionately African-American and Hispanic.
It is instructive to trace the evolution of a political strategy based on securing this coalition in the writings and comments, over time, of such Democratic analysts as Stanley Greenberg and Ruy Teixeira. Both men were initially determined to win back the white working-class majority, but both currently advocate a revised Democratic alliance in which whites without college degrees are effectively replaced by well-educated socially liberal whites in alliance with the growing ranks of less affluent minority voters, especially Hispanics.
The 2012 approach treats white voters without college degrees as an unattainable cohort. The Democratic goal with these voters is to keep Republican winning margins to manageable levels, in the 12 to 15 percent range, as opposed to the 30-point margin of 2010 — a level at which even solid wins among minorities and other constituencies are not enough to produce Democratic victories.
“It’s certainly true that if you compare how things were in the early ’90s to the way they are now, there has been a significant shift in the role of the working class. You see it across all advanced industrial countries,” Teixeira, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said in an interview.
In the United States, Teixeira noted, “the Republican Party has become the party of the white working class,”…
It’s not clear just what Democrats hoped to gain by going public with this. I’m glad they did because it gave the GOP a tremendous opportunity, which they so characteristically failed to exploit. This was a case of the Democrats doing something dumb, and the GOP following up by being even dumber.
This dumb and dumber routine happened at a time when the Tea Party movement was still going strong. It presented the GOP with a grand opportunity to strengthen its position with a large class of voters consisting of all races, working class and upper middle class as well. Of course, they blew it.
Obama won in 2012 by holding on to many working class voters in spite of him spitting in their faces. He didn’t exactly hold on to them, however. His victory was probably assured by many white working class voters deciding that if neither party wanted their votes they would just sit out that election.
In 2014, Democrats lost another 13 seats in the House and a staggering 9 seats in the Senate. The GOP blew that opportunity also. Again, fearing they would be called racists, the GOP majorities in the House and Senate refused to provide much in the way of opposition to Obama.
Donald J. Trump had been watching all this unfold. He saw an opportunity and unlike the rest of the GOP, he seized upon it.
There are two very good books that explain why and how Trump won in 2016. Victor Davis Hanson’s The Case For Trump explains why so many Americans of all political stripes voted for him. The other is Donald J. Trump: A President Like No Other by Conrad Black, an analysis of why Trump won in 2016. Both books are beautifully written. Another good one is The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics, by Salena Zito.
A shorter read is Conrad Black’s blog post yesterday at American Greatness, A Man For This Season. A large part of Trump’s success was (and still is) his willingness to depart from the groupthink of the movers and shakers of both parties. This infuriates them but pleases the voters who have grown weary of the usual state of affairs in the Washington DC swamp. Black says:
Trump pulled off an extraordinarily perceptive analysis of the areas of discontent—identified both intuitively and by polling carefully. Trump recognized that the post-Reagan presidency and Congress had alienated a large and ever-growing section of public opinion stretching, with rare dissident patches, from upstate New York and Pennsylvania to the Rocky Mountains, and apart from Minnesota and Illinois, from Canada to the border and Gulf of Mexico. This has become the great Republican torso of America, and Hanson limns in always interesting insights about the steadily increasing disaffection of traditional, white, working and middle-class Americans at what they consider the desertion of their interests by the Democratic Party and the disparagement of them and of their opinions by the leadership of the Democratic Party.
Tens of millions of Americans, not necessarily immensely politically sophisticated, but well aware of what they liked and disliked, were steadily more offended by President George H.W. Bush’s frivolous renunciation of his infamous Clint Eastwood-imitative promise: “Read my lips—no new taxes,” and by his, as they perceived it, post-Gulf War foreign policy that was overly deferential to America’s enemies and to free-loading allies. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had been removed from Kuwait yet crowed that he had survived, was developing nuclear weapons and was the tip of the spear of militant, secular Islam. Bush’s support for continued Ukrainian and other ethnic republics’ adherence to the Soviet Union, and praise for the “confederation” of Yugoslavia, vaguely annoyed many Americans, especially when his son led us back into Iraq a decade later. The senior President Bush’s answer to a recession at home was just to spend more, even if it was borrowed, and even if doing so did nothing for the dwindling manufacturing sector of America.
In time, the people that Bill Clinton assured “I feel your pain,” evolved, in considerable measure, into the people that Barack Obama would asperse as “clinging to guns and religion.” They too were irritated. This was hard to take from a man who sat contentedly for twenty years in the pews of racist and anti-American pastor Jeremiah Wright, who dispensed his violent religion in fiery terms to the Obama family. The same loyal Democrats going back to the Roosevelt and Truman and Kennedy and Johnson years were singularly unimpressed by 2016 candidate Hillary Clinton’s consignment of them to the “basket of deplorables,” racists male chauvinists, rednecks, reactionaries, and bigots.
The GOP held the majority in both houses for the first 2 years of Trump’s term. So what did they do with that wonderful political advantage? Nothing. They opposed Trump when he tried to implement legislation they had always said they supported. Apparently, they were no longer interested if Trump was going to get any of the credit for it. Paul Ryan was willing to lead the House on funding the border wall only after the 2018 midterms and during the lame duck session of Congress. He favored helping Trump fulfill his campaign promise only when he knew weren’t enough votes for it to pass the Senate.
Thanks, Paul Ryan. Jerk.