When Democrats have attacked the GOP as the party of the rich, Republicans have often decried it as “class warfare.” But seldom have they claimed to be waging their own upward-aimed class war; instead they’d say that a yacht-raising tide would lift all boats. Though they often attacked “elites,” that almost always meant cultural elites of college professors and snooty urbanites.
Until now. As they find purpose in feigned outrage against “woke” corporations, Republicans whose greatest desire is for another tax cut for the wealthy now say that they want to be the party of the working class.
Let’s take this seriously for a moment and ask: What exactly is the Republican Party offering the working class?
Take, for instance, the memo Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) recently wrote for Republicans entitled “Cementing the GOP as the Working-Class Party.” It argued that continuing the success Donald Trump had (never mind that he lost the popular vote twice) will require “enthusiastically rebranding and reorienting as the Party of the Working Class.”
The revealing part, however, is the actual policy suggestions Banks offers. In their entirety: harsh immigration policies; protectionism on trade; “Anti-Wokeness”; opposing “Wall Street” by complaining about covid lockdowns that hurt small businesses; and going after technology companies’ “censorship” of conservatives.
So if you’re looking for actual policies, that’s really just two things: immigration and trade. Which isn’t exactly nothing, but it sure isn’t much.
And when a Republican comes up with an idea to help people of modest incomes in a substantial way — as Mitt Romney did with a plan to give parents a generous no-strings child tax benefit — most other Republicans reject it.
Or consider the way the new conservative populists oppose technology companies. They get up in arms about Trump being kicked off Twitter for violating the platform’s terms of service, but have a lot more trouble coming up with any meaningful answer to the problem of tech giants accumulating the power they have.
And that’s the real problem for Republicans: While they may like the idea that they could be a working-class party, not only is their commitment to trickle-down economics ironclad, they can never resist the siren song of the culture war.
After all, why bother trying to cram genuinely pro-worker economic ideas about wages or working conditions or health care into your pro-corporate box if you can just shout about Dr. Seuss and the War on Christmas? It works in keeping white working class voters choosing Republicans — not every time, but often enough.
That’s what produces things like the GOP’s current campaign of one-at-a-time retribution against corporations. It doesn’t get to any real issues; all it does is lash out when the culture war makes a company seem too aligned with liberal goals and values.
So Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) came out in favor of a unionization drive against Amazon in Alabama — but not because he believes all workers should have the right to collectively bargain (he doesn’t). It was only because Amazon’s “leadership has decided to wage culture war against working-class values” by being too “woke.”
If your company is mistreating you but hasn’t weighed in on whatever culture war issue Sean Hannity is talking about, your plight is of no concern to Sen. Rubio.
Or take the brave stance taken this week by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), who held a dramatic news conference to propose removing Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption because the league moved its All-Star Game from Atlanta in response to the voter suppression law Georgia Republicans passed.
If this was about antitrust, perhaps the senators would wage an equally vigorous crusade against the brutally monopolistic practices within the meat industry that turn small farmers into the equivalent of indentured servants. But they aren’t. If Tyson or Perdue comes out against voter suppression, maybe then they’ll take notice.
That’s the story again and again: Republicans may want the votes of the working class, but it’ll always be easier to get them with culture war posturing than with meaningful policy change — especially if that change would come at the expense of the wealthy or corporations in general, rather than whichever company they decided this week that they don’t like.
To be clear, I’m not arguing that nonmaterial concerns can’t be meaningful, or that it’s never rational for a voter to choose the party that reflects their values rather than the one that promotes their economic interests (after all, there are plenty of affluent people who vote for Democrats knowing that it might mean their taxes will go up).
But if Republicans are going to argue explicitly in terms of class, then they should present some policy ideas that would actually improve the lives of people who live paycheck to paycheck. And that’s something they just can’t seem to bring themselves to do.