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The GOP Platform and the Working Class

The Republican party is meeting this week to solidify its hostile takeover by Donald Trump. One would think that fact would encourage some soul-searching from the activists and party elites sent to the convention as delegates—a careful look at why voters abandoned the establishment candidates in droves for someone who mocks party orthodoxy, and at how the party can better serve those voters without sacrificing its core convictions.

This is not what happened. The text of the platform is not available as I write this, but the media reported extensively upon the discussions the delegates had last week, offering a broad picture of the changes made to the platform and the time devoted to debating them. That picture isn’t pretty.

Sure, nodding to Trump, the delegates adopted “America first” language on trade and punched up the platform’s immigration provisions. But otherwise they proceeded as if nothing had happened. If anything, they “created a firewall between what the party stands for and what Trump stands for,” as The Atlantic put it [1].

No doubt you’ve already seen the greatest hitsthe outlandish statements the delegates adopted seemingly for no other reason than to annoy the left. Probably my favorite is the use of the word “clean,” without qualification, to refer to coal, our dirtiest source of energy. There’s also the vague endorsement of a parent’s right to send a child to gay conversion therapy and the ludicrous declaration that porn is a “public health crisis.”


More important to the future of the GOP, though, is what the process revealed about the party’s actual priorities. Social conservatives, understandably given the events of the past several years, participated aggressively and saw their concerns addressed. The platform decries the recent Supreme Court decision declaring gay marriage to be a constitutional right, endorses efforts to protect the conscience rights of those who object to homosexuality on religious grounds, and criticizes an Obama-administration directive requiring public schools to allow transgender students to use whichever bathroom they want.

Foreign-policy hawks were also reassured that the party wouldn’t be drifting in Trump’s direction. “Delegates say the defense planks of the platform differ little from past documents,” the Daily Signal reported [2].

But the breakdown of the working class was neglected. There seems to have been little discussion of the economic anxieties of working families, the safety net, or the drug epidemic sweeping rural America.

There is some debate about exactly how poor Trump voters themselves are, but it is hard to deny that he did best in downtrodden communities, especially at the beginning of his campaign [3]. His message that the system is rigged and elites don’t care about the working class resonated.

Spurred to action by the analogous Bernie Sanders movement, Democrats extensively haggled [4] over how to address these issues when they put their platform draft together. Despite the fact that their party is nominating Donald Trump—and despite the fact that the 2012 platform [5] they inherited did not speak to these insurgents’ complaints—Republicans did not.

What should such a discussion look like on the right? For my money, the “reform conservatives” (aka “reformocons”) provide the best starting point. For nearly a decade, starting with the 2008 publication of Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam’s Grand New Party, these folks have been saying that the GOP is failing to address working-class worries. The rise of Trump decisively proves them correct on that score. The reformocons also offer a set of policy prescriptions that may appeal to Trump voters [6], including tax relief targeted at the working and middle classes (especially parents) rather than the rich, and improved work supports for the poor.

Last week, Republican elites could have at least talked about that agenda, especially given that it was put together by people who saw Trump coming when they did not. Did voters reject it when they rejected Marco Rubio, who has some reformocon tendencies? Did Rubio not really make these ideas the center of his campaign? Was he just not a good enough politician to make a case for this platform? If the reformocon agenda isn’t the right approach to the problem, what is?

Instead, their focus on the bottom half of the economic spectrum seems to have been limited to a debate about the purchase of unhealthy snacks with food stamps. Of course, party platforms are not binding, and some dismiss their importance entirely. But for those hoping to see a productive response from the GOP to the rise of Trump, the events of last week do not bode well.

Robert VerBruggen is managing editor of The American Conservative.

Follow @RAVerBruggen [7]

22 Comments (Open | Close)

22 Comments To "The GOP Platform and the Working Class"

#1 Comment By cdugga On July 18, 2016 @ 2:24 am

Let’s see; the republican party platform is something anti-gay something, or anti-gay something something. Gay conversion therapy and clean coal. How is that t-shirt sellin? Like, should it be in black letters on a white T, or white letters on a black T. I guess if we are cleaning things up the letters should be white on a black bckgrnd. What is not addressed, is working class economic anxiety and drug abuse. Policy to fix that would be more tax cuts, but directed at working class people. Tax cuts can probably fix everything, we simply just do not have enough of them. Ahem. Let me clear my throat. Noper, the platform of the here to fore self labelled conservative republican party, is the freedom to buy assault weaponry designed to kill as many people as possible with practically no questions or limitations. That is the republican party platform. Just the facts please. Any other issue that might be of concern to conservatives or republicans is subverted by that single issue. That is, the right of any complete azz to carry a bushmaster assault rifle and a wild wild west holster tie down for their glock into any public venue, including those public events fraught with terrorist concern over murderous threats to government law enforcement. There is your platform guys. Own it.

#2 Comment By Johann On July 18, 2016 @ 9:37 am

Neither party’s platform helps the working class. Its more of the same. The only question is which one bankrupts the country the quickest. Social issues are a distraction. There should be no need for the platform to say parents have a right to send their child to gay conversion therapy. Of course they do, whether the party says so or not, and more importantly, whether the government says so or not.

#3 Comment By mrscracker On July 18, 2016 @ 10:50 am

There’s also the vague endorsement of a parent’s right to send a child to gay conversion therapy and the ludicrous declaration that porn is a “public health crisis.”
How is porn not a public health crisis? That sounds pretty commonsense to me.

#4 Comment By JR On July 18, 2016 @ 11:52 am

This should surprise no one. The GOP has not had any real concern for middle America since Nixon or perhaps Eisenhower. Ever since they found they could serve plutocrats more energetically by duping their base with cost-free hot-button issues, they have purged any semblance of sound political thought from their ranks.

The problem is that reality is catching up to their games and Trump has called Bulls$%t on the status quo.

It is ironic indeed that Hillary could very well lose this contest for being too “more of the same” in the current climate with the GOP elites preferring she win than win with Trump.

What attractive “core convictions” does Hillary have that makes her so much more appealing to the GOP than Trump?

I suspect it’s because “Clinton” is almost a synonym for a willingness to be rolled at the expense of the Democrat base and Trump might, just might give the GOP base a taste of something better.

#5 Comment By DavidE On July 18, 2016 @ 11:59 am

@mrscracker May I ask you to answer your question, “How is porn not a public health crisis?”, or even “How is porn a public health crisis?

#6 Comment By Uncle Billy On July 18, 2016 @ 1:03 pm

I am 65 years old and still working. I do not know when I will get to retire. My 401K stinks. The private sector has done away with pensions, so we are on our own. Yet, the GOP seems focused on gay marriage instead of helping the millions of Americans who are struggling financially. I could care less about gay marriage. How would banning gay marriage help me? The GOP is a joke.

#7 Comment By KevinS On July 18, 2016 @ 1:43 pm

“the ludicrous declaration that porn is a “public health crisis.”

While I agree, I would note that Rod Dreher in these pages has gone even further, declaring it a civilizational crisis!

#8 Comment By Ben On July 18, 2016 @ 2:30 pm

@Mrs cracker, how is porn a health threat? I understand the reasoning that makes it a problem, but there is no connection I know of to premature death, poor physical health, poor health days, BMI, infant mortality, rates of chronic disease or infectious disease or anything else we typically think of as relating to public health. If there is some link between porn and poor social ties and poor social ties and health outcomes, then we are, at best, casting a much wider net on what counts as “public health”. There has been quite a bit of work connecting the built and social environment to public health, but that has been painstaking, highly rigorous and decades in the making. And even then, lack of sidewalks is usually cast as a public health concern, not a “crisis.”

#9 Comment By RFK 2016 On July 18, 2016 @ 4:11 pm

If the Working class wants government policy that would improve their situation, why didn’t they support Obama’s call for a $10 per hour minimum wage? Why do they oppose mandated health insurance for businesses with more than 50 employees? The working class has been cutting its own throat for decades by voting Republican.

#10 Comment By Jay L On July 18, 2016 @ 5:42 pm

Much to do about nothing. Trump and his people don’t care about the Platform. It is nonbinding claptrap to them and they are right. Can someone please tell me when was the last time either Party paid more than lip service to the 4 year platform the day after the convention? The candidates always run on their own ideas. There is no discipline concerning the platform. The platform’s only function in these times is to allow the various factions of the party to blow off steam and pretend to all agree on at least something in it such that they can further pretend to be a united party.

#11 Comment By mrscracker On July 18, 2016 @ 6:49 pm

Sorry, I should have explained that I include mental health as a part of public health.

#12 Comment By Clint On July 18, 2016 @ 8:52 pm

Much to do about nothing. Trump and his people don’t care about the Platform. It is nonbinding claptrap to them and they are right


It’s interesting to see this sidetracking nonsense about “The Platform”. The story is Trump, not some boring semi-meaningless party political balderdash.

#13 Comment By Adam S On July 18, 2016 @ 10:18 pm

The problem with Marco is that his gang of 8 bill would have allowed countless millions of new immigrants. Most of them would be poor and in need of public benefits. Their children would all be entitled to a free education paid for by local taxpayers. We need to be open to skilled immigrants at a rate to fill needed positions.

The GOP, beholden to big business doesn’t give a damn.

#14 Comment By Matt On July 18, 2016 @ 11:16 pm

” The working class has been cutting its own throat for decades by voting Republican.”

It was the democrats that started the job offshoring that has greatly harmed the working class, now a republican is going to fix it.

#15 Comment By Richard M On July 19, 2016 @ 10:02 am

“Social issues are a distraction.”

Over 3,000 unborn children are butchered every single day in America. It’s hard to see what more important issue that could be a “distraction” from.

#16 Comment By mrscracker On July 19, 2016 @ 11:31 am

Richard M says:

“Social issues are a distraction.”

Over 3,000 unborn children are butchered every single day in America. It’s hard to see what more important issue that could be a “distraction” from.”
Even if one buys into the “self-autonomy” theme, it’s still dismaying that we hold so little dear & have such a lack of confidence in our culture/values that we’re unwilling to pass it down to the next generation. Or really, even to have succeeding generations.
Our fertility rates have been at all time lows. Abortion is a part of that despair, but not the whole.

#17 Comment By eojbn On July 19, 2016 @ 3:24 pm

If you think porn is a public health problem, it’s probably time for you to put it down and step outside. Jesus, you goobers. No wonder you won’t win the White House again in your lifetimes.

#18 Comment By Uncle Billy On July 19, 2016 @ 6:02 pm

Nobody is forced to watch porn. They do it of their own free will. These born again types who get “hooked” on porn are pathetic.

#19 Comment By Pat E On July 19, 2016 @ 6:04 pm


#20 Comment By Myron Hudson On July 20, 2016 @ 3:10 pm

Underlying this disconnect is the GOP establishment’s obsession with “leadership”. They do not see themselves as public servants executing the peoples’ will. They see themselves as the superior elite, knowing what’s best for us common folks and indeed the entire world. They are Leaders, and the rest of us are expected to fall in line.

#21 Comment By BetterLooAdvocate On July 21, 2016 @ 2:59 am

“This should surprise no one. The GOP has not had any real concern for middle America since Nixon or perhaps Eisenhower.”

Absolutely, the modern GOP would be as anathema to Nixon and Eisenhower as Bolshevism. Nixon was born into abject poverty. He never forgot that. Eisenhower understood both poverty and the real costs of a war machine providing one of the most prescient speeches by anyone in history about unrestrained militarization and empire creation.

Neoliberalism and market rationality theories have crippled the working class. Not because jobs went overseas, but by pretending or actually believing that markets will always provide opportunities to compensate for rapid economic shifts. They haven’t. They won’t. They never could.

Simultaneously we’ve dismantled back up systems like subsidized state education across the country — policies based on unproven neoliberal concepts — with tuition and related costs rising 3-5 times the rate of inflation for nearly 20 years now. This is all the result of a debt based “market” education model. Retraining into a new field or vocation can take upwards of 3 years and cost $20,000 dollars now. If it’s a Bachelors it’s $50,000 on the low end and for a Masters or doctorate double that figure.

Those telling the working class just to go back to school and suck it up are usually those who got the good stuff — 80% state subsidized education from the late 1950’s to the mid 1990’s. Today it’s the exact opposite in many states. 70-80% federal student loans and 20% – 30% state subsidy. There’s no working your way through school with that ratio amidst stagnant wages and rising costs of housing, health insurance, utilities, etc. As Biggie Smalls said, “Things done changed.”

The modern GOP and Democrats are both complicit, but the GOP has pushed against compensatory infrastructure to allow for rapidly changing economic adaptation. There’s no bringing back those manufacturing jobs with good pay, but we could have been direct about the need for social infrastructure and providing transitional services, tax breaks, etc. for people to learn new skills affordably. We didn’t do that. Instead we created market based solutions that took billions of federally subsidized loans for “certificates” as worthless as the paper it was printed on.

Instead the GOP lied to the people and themselves. Just work at Walmart. You can do it!!!! Unions? No need for collective bargaining. You can do it! Higher minimum wage? Job destroyer! The National Review, the “stink tank” of neoliberal BS actually blamed the working poor for their circumstances recently. Not because the people voted for the idiotic and fantasy laden polices the NR advocated for for decades, but precisely BECAUSE they were suffering under the very economic conditions realized by those same policies. The level of condescension was nauseating. The level of hypocrisy is unforgivable.

Ultimately though the working people bought the lie. They wanted the lie. They deserve the lie. Yet even with that it pains me to no end the despair created in working class communities across the country. The GOP created in their blind faith a ideologically bankrupt economic reality. They should be ashamed of themselves.

The Democrats and liberals bare equal blame. They were condescending as hell. They were navel gazing about the trivialities of identity politics and micro aggressions. They were uncoordinated and detached from the class and economic populism that was their bedrock 80 years ago. They elevated the micro over the macro. They formed drums circles in city parks while 20 miles away white single mothers in rusty 40 year old trailers fed their families single budget box mac and cheese with “chicken product” that they received from a food bank. How’s that for a safe space? Where’s the privilege in that? They’re privileged in that it would be worse if they were black. That’s true but not by much.

The Democratic party was an enabler, myopic, elitist and steeped in soft science extrapolations while families descended into chaos. But the GOP has been most complicit with it’s nonsense economic policies based in part on a flawed interpretation of the long winded (but brilliant) treatise of a scotsman who wrote 240 years ago (about economic realities that no longer exist) and an economist steeped in the rantings of a Russian refugee who fled totalitarianism, wrote god awful novels espousing a new “philosophy” of objectivism. Ultimately what’s the difference between that and the most fanatical Marxist? They’re all based on belief, not empiricism. They’re all full of s%$t.

Both party establishment folks should be actively looking for increased personal security. I have a feeling they’re going to need it very soon. They deserve that fear. They deserve an increased anxiety. They’re complicit in economic homicide.

#22 Comment By Greg Hanson On August 6, 2016 @ 4:41 pm

@BetterLooAdvocate: The best condensed summary of our current mess I’ve yet read. Excellent.