Thursday, January 14, 2016

To Attract Disillusioned Voters, the GOP Must Understand Their Concerns. By Henry Olsen.

To Attract Disillusioned Voters, the GOP Must Understand Their Concerns. By Henry Olsen. National Review Online, January 14, 2016. (From the January 25, 2016 issue of National Review.)


Thanks to Donald Trump, American elites are finally paying attention to blue-collar, white America. They do not like what they see.

Racist. Bigoted. Irrational. Angry. How many times have you read or heard one or more of these words used to describe Trump’s followers? Whether they are the academic, media, and entertainment elites of the Left or the political and business elites of the Right, America’s self-appointed best and brightest uniformly view the passions unleashed by Trump as the modern-day equivalent of a medieval peasants’ revolt. And, like their medieval forebears, they mean to crush it.

That effort is both a fool’s errand for the country and a poisoned chalice for conservatives and Republicans. It is foolish because the reasons the peasants are revolting will not fade easily. Ignoring and ridiculing their concerns, the way European elites have done with their own electorates for most of the last two decades, will simply intensify the masses’ rage and ensure that their political spokesmen become more intransigent and radical. If you want an American version of Marine Le Pen tomorrow, ignore the legitimate concerns of blue-collar Americans today.

And it is a poisoned chalice for the Right because such a strategy requires a permanent informal coalition with the Left. Keeping blue-collar white Americans out of political power will result in exactly what Washington elites have wanted for years: a series of grand bargains that keep the status quo largely intact and the Democratic party in power.

Conservative Republicans have fought for 60 years to build a coalition that not only will tell history to stop, but will also channel it in a new direction, a direction in which freedom flourishes and America and her values reign over a peaceful and prosperous globe. The constituency that is rallying to Trump is not fully conservative, but it shares more values with conservatives than do any of the other constituencies that could possibly be enticed to join our cause. It is thus imperative that conservatives understand what these fellow citizens want and find ways to make common cause with them where we can.

Blue-collar whites traditionally have been animated by the sense that government ought to be on the side of the little guy. They formed the backbone of the Democratic party during its New Deal/Great Society heyday, enthusiastically supporting a party that aided labor unions, created Social Security and Medicare, and expanded educational opportunities. While they no longer think of themselves as Democrats, they have not abandoned either these sentiments or the promises that these programs originally offered. Their openness to the Right is predicated on the Right’s guaranteeing that these advances will not be undone.

Patriotism has also been a blue-collar-white staple for decades. Blue-collar whites may not be particularly hawkish (their sons and daughters are often our “boots on the ground”), but they are not isolationist or pacifist, either. They are proud of America, favor effective measures to protect our security, and do not like to see America humiliated by her enemies.

Blue-collar whites remain more friendly to traditional religion than other, more educated groups but are not as motivated by social issues as they were 30 to 40 years ago. Whites without a college degree who remain motivated by these issues are already staunch Republicans. Those who remain independent tend to be open to candidates’ espousing traditional social values but do not prioritize those values highly when choosing whom to vote for.

Today these voters are most animated by a sense that they are being left behind by a changing America. They have good reason to think so: Americans with less than a college education have seen their incomes stagnate or decline for more than 15 years. Inflation-adjusted median incomes peaked for these men and women in 1999, during the Clinton administration (expect to hear a lot about that if Hillary is the Democratic nominee). Neither the Bush nor the Obama years have been good for them.

This has not made them want to overhaul America’s private sector. Polls show that blue-collar whites still believe in free enterprise and distrust government solutions. They do not believe, however, that the current economy is serving them well.

These developments have led them to be among the most pessimistic of all American voter groups. Pew Research broke the American electorate into eight groups in 2014, and the one that contains blue-collar white swing voters — “Hard-Pressed Skeptics” — was solidly down on their own future and on America’s. Sixty-one percent said America’s best years are behind us, and 65 percent said that hard work and determination are no guarantee of success.

These voters also do not trust either Wall Street or the American economy more generally to provide for their future. Seventy-four percent say that our economy unfairly favors powerful interests, and 54 percent say Wall Street hurts America’s economy. In each case, only “Solid Liberals” expressed more negative, anti-business views.

Trump’s opposition to immigration and suspicion of free trade have been his calling cards so far, so it should be no surprise to find that blue-collar white independent voters share his views. The Pew study found that 79 percent think immigrants are a burden on the country and 44 percent think free-trade agreements are bad for America. These voters have been hit hard by competition from foreigners, whether those foreigners live abroad (free trade) or at home (immigrants), and they want protection — now.

Blue-collar whites are also more open to government action than many movement conservatives. For example, 87 percent of “Steadfast Conservatives,” Pew’s term for movement conservatives, think government is doing too much that should be left to individuals and businesses; only 44 percent of Hard-Pressed Skeptics agree. Sixty percent of Hard-Pressed Skeptics think government aid to the poor does more good than harm; only 10 percent of Steadfast Conservatives agree. Seventy-nine percent of Hard-Pressed Skeptics say that cuts to Social Security benefits should be off the table. Clearly a campaign based on cutting food stamps and reforming entitlements will not resonate with blue-collar whites.

One might wonder whether meeting these voters halfway is worth it. But there is no alternative: All other voter groups who might be open to voting for a Republican nominee are farther to the left and oppose conservative consensus on key matters of principle.

Hispanics, for example, strongly favor government intervention in the economy. The Public Religion Research Institute has found that Hispanics favor raising taxes and increasing spending on education and infrastructure by a nearly two-to-one margin over cutting taxes and letting business grow. Upper-income young whites, whom Pew calls the “Next Generation Left,” favor free trade and low taxes but are highly secular and green, opposing the traditional definition of marriage and favoring greenhouse-gas-emission controls. These voters will vote for Republicans, but only for moderates such as former New York governor George Pataki or former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Building a working coalition by focusing on either of these groups, as many in the GOP establishment favor, would trigger a civil war within conservatism.

Winning the support of blue-collar voters means gaining their trust, and that means first affirming the core elements of their worldview. They have to believe that the GOP nominee understands that they have been the losers in the transition to a modern economy. They have to believe that the nominee will be on their side when the chips are down and that he is willing to take on the powerful. A nominee who appears ignorant of or callous toward these views, such as Mitt Romney, will be rejected as long as the Democratic nominee seems marginally acceptable.

This means that they will demand, at a minimum, some form of immigration restriction. America undoubtedly needs some immigrants to fuel its economic growth, especially since the native-born work force is aging. But “open borders” as an end goal of immigration reform will simply not fly with these voters.

The nominee should be guided by the principle “All the immigrants we need, but only the immigrants we need.” That means he or she should favor getting control of our borders and enforcing requirements to give American citizens priority for job openings. It may also mean reforms that help citizens move in search of work. Low-skilled, native-born Americans tend to stay in place when jobs leave their communities, a choice partially subsidized by a host of well-meaning government programs that allow them to get by without moving. Reforming these programs to encourage Americans to move where the jobs are will lower the demand for immigration and give blue-collar Americans of all races the help they need to get back on the ladder to self-sufficiency.

Addressing the downside of free trade is also key to winning these voters. Restricting trade itself is not a good idea, since trade creates jobs that these voters need. But free-trade competition places downward pressure on the wages and compensation of low-skilled workers. A GOP nominee who wants to attract these voters must embrace an economic policy that creates high-paying jobs that people with high-school educations can do.

This will require more than simply lowering corporate tax rates to encourage business investment, although it certainly does require that. It will require more than making it easier to produce oil, natural gas, and other natural resources that create good jobs for people with moderate levels of formal education. Ideally, it will involve enacting some policies that favor or subsidize high-paying jobs in America.

That could take many forms, but Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s tax reforms give some idea of what one can do. He has not cut corporate tax rates in Wisconsin. Instead, he has enacted two tax credits that reward businesses for jobs they create and for in-state business activity. Federal corporate tax credits for companies that create jobs in America, and perhaps for companies that increase employee compensation beyond the rate of inflation, would show blue-collar Americans that the government is working for them.

Blue-collar voters also need to know that “playing by the rules” will be rewarded, not punished. Some of the major objections they have to immigration and trade arise from the fact that our government looks the other way at cheating when it comes to foreigners (e.g., Chinese currency manipulation and businesses’ hiring illegal immigrants) but rigorously enforces the rules when it comes to Americans. To blue-collar whites, “working hard and playing by the rules” is a core value; a government that doesn’t share it is one that earns scorn and merits disgust. A GOP nominee who wants to win these voters over will have to show he is serious about creating economic rules that don’t disfavor American workers and will be enforced.

It is also possible to find common ground with these voters on tax policy. They will support tax cuts for everyone, even the “top 1 percent,” but they will not support tax cuts that seem unduly to favor the already well-to-do. This is a problem for most Republican candidates, because they have already endorsed tax policies that embrace the supply-side view that the best way to grow the economy is to cut taxes for the highest earners.

A politically ideal tax policy would look less like what is on offer now and more like what has worked for Governors Walker and Kasich (Ohio). Both Walker and Kasich have cut tax rates for all, but their cuts are much smaller than those that the other major candidates have proposed. Each of their state tax-cut plans also includes elements that backload the cuts in favor of working-class households — in Kasich’s case, an increase in the earned-income tax credit, and larger rate cuts for lower income brackets in Walker’s. A politically ideal tax plan would adopt similar approaches.

A bold nominee might even want to propose exempting the first $20,000 in wages from the Medicaid payroll tax, which would lower the cost of hiring a new employee and nearly eliminate this tax for most households earning less than the median income. This exemption would apply to all workers, so higher-income taxpayers would see their taxes cut too; but it would apply equally to all rather than give a greater benefit to people who are already doing well. It would be a federal version of the across-the-board property-tax cuts that Scott Walker has enacted with great success, cuts that benefit all and give equal treatment to people in all income brackets.

The same basic approach extends to a host of other issues. Higher education, for example, costs so much because academic elites keep out competitors and prop up tenured faculty who teach and publish very little. Deregulation and tying federal student aid to keeping tuition increases at or below inflation will give blue-collar students the education they want at a price they can afford.

Obamacare should be repealed and replaced, but with an eye more on how its replacement will work in practice than on how it looks in theory. That means designing a plan that subsidizes private-sector coverage and deregulates health-insurance and health-care markets to incentivize the private sector to deliver care more efficiently.

Conservatives can achieve all this while advancing freedom and opportunity. Ronald Reagan built his career on that understanding. Writing in these pages in December 1964, he asserted that conservatives “represent the forgotten American — that simple soul who goes to work, bucks for a raise, takes out insurance, pays for his kids’ schooling, contributes to his church and charity and knows there just ‘ain’t no such thing as free lunch.’” Reagan spent the rest of his career representing that soul, and in so doing created the modern conservative movement and changed the world. We who stand on his shoulders would do well to readopt the sentiments that allowed him to attract the blue-collar Reagan Democrats and remake his coalition in our times.

Donald Trump Holds a Massive Rally in Pensacola, Florida.

Donald Trump Holds a Rally in Pensacola, FL (1-13-16). Video. Right Side Broadcasting Network, January 13, 2016. YouTube.

The Specter of Islam. By Robert Tracinski.

The Specter of Islam. By Robert Tracinski. The Federalist, January 11, 2016.


A specter is haunting Europe. The specter of Islam.

George W. Bush used to say that we had to fight the terrorists over there, in the Middle East, so we wouldn’t have to fight them here at home. A long period of relative security made that claim seem overblown, like a lame justification for interventionism. But it just might turn out that he was right, and that it is even more true for Europe than it is for us.

I was reminded of this reading about the curtailed New Year’s Eve celebrations in Paris.
About 60,000 police officers and troops were deployed across the country, and revelers said that made them feel safer. “The same troops who used to be in Mali, Chad, French Guyana or the Central African Republic are now ensuring the protection of French people,” said Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
In Belgium, the New Year’s Eve festivities were canceled entirely.
In Brussels, 2016 was rung in without the customary fireworks display and downtown street party…. Earlier this week, Belgian authorities announced they had arrested two men suspected of planning to stage attacks in Brussels over the holidays…. On Thursday morning, forklifts and trucks removed generators and other equipment from the Place de Brouckere, the broad square in central Brussels where the fireworks show was supposed to happen.
In Paris, they were significantly scaled down.
Paris canceled its usual fireworks display in favor of a five-minute video performance at the Arc de Triomphe just before midnight, relayed on screens along the Champs Elysee, where people chanted. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said the show was aimed at “sending the world the message that Paris is standing, proud of its lifestyle and living together.”
Well, no, if Paris were standing tall, it would have had its usual celebrations. Fireworks have an interesting symbolism, recalling the sights and sounds of war. Presumably that’s the problem this year: fireworks would be good cover for another shooting rampage. In the United States, legend has it that the reason we have fireworks on the Fourth of July is to remember the wars we fought to gain and keep our independence — the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air. But you only want to remember that if you won the war. If you’re losing, I can see why you wouldn’t be so excited about the fireworks.

The most dispiriting thing said about Paris was from a Parisienne on the street: “It was a very strange year, and we just want 2016 to be different, simply a normal one. It does not need to be an excellent one, but just a normal one.” Way to aim high.

But I doubt 2016 is going to be a normal year for Europeans. German officials just admitted that a little more than half of a wave of attacks during New Year’s Eve celebrations in Cologne were by North African and Middle Eastern asylum seekers who have flooded into the country during the Syrian civil war and have been welcomed under a foolishly, sanctimoniously overgenerous refugee policy.

The most disturbing thing about the Cologne attacks was the prevalence of sexual assault as a weapon, complete with gangs of Muslim men stalking German women through the streets, yelling obscenities at them and threatening them with sexual violence. Note to Western feminists: we finally found real “rape culture” for you. Unfortunately, it is not found primarily among middle-class American college boys, which is what you were hoping for.

This is “normal” — if that word can be applied here — in the Arab and Muslim world. Wherever large crowds gather, unaccompanied women are in danger. (Remember the brutal attack on CBS reporter Lara Logan during the Egyptian revolution.) This is a measure of the extent to which the culture of Islam, as it is practiced in much of the world, deranges and brutalizes its believers, particularly when it comes to their attitudes toward women and sex. This is what has now arrived in the heart of a free, civilized, enlightened Europe.

But take heart, some people in Europe are really thinking ahead. The famed Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana in now offering high-end hijabs. So yes, it turns out that burqas do come in sizes.

This is an inauspicious start to 2016 — but it is exactly what we should expect after 2015, which was the year the Specter of Islam rose to loom high over the capitals of Europe.

Last year was bookended by parallel events in France and the United States. The year began with the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, in which French jihadists with ties to ISIS wiped out the top staff of an irreverent magazine that had flouted Islamic restrictions — followed in March by the thwarted attack on Pamela Geller’s Draw Mohammed contest in Garland, Texas. The year drew to an end with a large, coordinated jihadist shooting attack on multiple targets across Paris, followed by the San Bernardino massacre in the US.

In these attacks, we can see three clear patterns.

First, radical Muslims attack the mind first, then the body. In a revealing statement, Secretary of State John Kerry blurted out that he found the Charlie Hebdo attacks understandable, with a “legitimacy” or at least a “rationale” about enforcing Islamic restrictions. But that’s an utterly false distinction. Yes, the jihadists’ first targets in the West are going to be those people who use words, ideas, and art to challenge Islam. But those are only the first targets, not the last. As the attacks at the end of the year demonstrated, the jihadists ultimately want to wipe out all the infidels, not just the outspoken few. And as the New Year’s Eve attacks demonstrate, their target isn’t just artists who draw provocative cartoons but women whose “provocation” is not to cover themselves in public from head to foot.

Second, the attacks in the US are smaller, less organized, and less successful than in Europe. This reflects the fact that Muslims in the US is a smaller percentage of the population and better assimilated to American values. Fewer are attracted to the cause of jihad, and they are less able to work with people around them to plan and organize. (And, as I noted after the Garland attack, America is generally a harder target.) But among the small number of violent radicals, the full murderous intent is there, even if the means are not as effective. Europe is the front line, but we’re not far behind.

This can be seen in the first Islam-inspired terror attack of the New Year: the shooting of a Philadelphia police officer by a man who pledged loyalty to ISIS and said he did it “in the name of Islam.” He will no doubt be dismissed as No True Muslim.

And that leads us to the third lesson: we have a president who is resolutely opposed to learning any of the other lessons. Instead, he is focusing all of his efforts on doing what little he can to disarm Americans. Unfortunately, judging from the presidential debates — in which the Democratic participants steadfastly refused to use the phrase “radical Islam” — we’re not going to get any better from the next round of Democratic candidates.

The rise of the Islamic State and its ability to inspire and organize terrorists attacks in the West, combined with the Democrats’ refusal to confront this threat, sets up one of the big questions for 2016, particularly as the Republican primaries actually go to a vote in the next two months. This must now be a national security election, and by that standard the only interesting debate is between Republican candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

I don’t expect our current president to do much of anything about the threat of Islam, or to help the Europeans with it, during his remaining term in office. Instead, we have the rest of this year to decide how we would like the next president to deal with it.

Because the specter of Islam is haunting us all.