The GOP Flirts with Class Warfare: Will Republicans Abandon Ronald Reagan's Principles for Rick Santorum's Populism?

By Dalmia, Shikha | Reason, October 2013 | Go to article overview

The GOP Flirts with Class Warfare: Will Republicans Abandon Ronald Reagan's Principles for Rick Santorum's Populism?


Dalmia, Shikha, Reason


THE GOOD NEWS about the Republican Party is that its drubbing in the November 2012 elections has triggered some genuine soul searching about the party's contentious relationship with Hispanics. The bad news is that conservatives are increasingly concluding that the GOP requires no fundamental course correction to win elections; it just needs to bring back the 1.6 million "missing white voters" who stayed home.

The rap against Hispanics is that they love government handouts more than limited government. Will a whiter GOP mean the opposite? Not exactly.

In June, RealClearPolitics election analyst Seen Trende published a four-part series arguing that what cost Mitt Romney the election was not Hispanics voting for Barack Obama in droves, as Karl Rove, Arthur Brooks, Jeb Bush, and others have contended. These establishment voices, Trende charged, were guilty of "groupthink at its worst." No, the missing swing voters were whites, particularly the kind of "largely downscale, Northern, and rural" Americans once attracted to Ross Perot.

So what's the best way to court these folks? The emerging consensus is that it will take a new program of "working-class populism," with a dose of class warfare. "The crucial idea [is] that conservatism ought to focus directly on the economic interests of downscale Americans, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote in May.

Some elements of this populist class warfare are perfectly consistent with limited government. Ending the corporate welfare and bailouts that enrich Romney's pals by raiding the pockets of working-class taxpayers is something that most people would wholeheartedly embrace. Ditto closing the revolving door between Wall Street and K Street that allows Big Business to either exempt itself from onerous regulations or rig the rules to block smaller competitors.

But a GOP that abandons its pro-Wall Street rhetoric and rages against crony capitalism is not sufficient to lure back Perot voters, Trende contends. For that, the party needs an affirmative program to, as Perot himself once suggested, put '"America First' on trade, immigration, and foreign policy. …

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