The Republican Party pivots to the working-class

“We are a working-class party now”-Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO)

Since 2010, working-class voters without a college degree have driven the most significant growth in the Republican Party’s coalition. Following precedent set by former President Trump, the GOP has shifted its rhetoric and policies accordingly. While Trump’s appeals to the working class initially set him apart from the mainstream Republican Party, which has based its platform on fiscal conservatism and free-market economics since the Reagan era, the GOP as a whole is increasingly pivoting towards the working class by proposing greater expenditures on low-income Americans, even if doing so means losing its Reaganite character.

From 2010-2020, the share of white working-class voters supporting the Republican Party in elections grew 10% and the share of Latino and black working-class voters supporting the party similarly rose. In the 2020 election cycle, the Republican party received the majority of blue-collar donations. According to a memo written by Representative Jim Banks (R-IN), of the mechanics and custodians who donated to a presidential campaign in 2020, 79% and 59% donated to Trump, respectively.

The blue-collar bloc’s alignment with the Republican Party is mirrored by growing of support among the white-collar demographic for the Democratic party. According to Banks’s memo, in 2020, white-collar donors overwhelmingly supported the Biden campaign. 94% of college professors and 86% of marketing professionals who made donations donated to Biden. Similarly, while Wall Street donors donated three times as much money to Mitt Romney as they did to Barack Obama in 2012, in 2020, they donated four times more to Biden than to Trump. Overall, the Democrats received 63% of donations from individuals working in the securities and investment industry in the 2020 cycle, up from 49% in 2016.

Banks argues that the data suggest that winning the working-class vote will be instrumental to the GOP’s performance in the 2022 midterm elections. He writes in the memo “[we] can take back the house by enthusiastically rebranding and reorienting as the Party of the Working Class.” To redefine itself, he adds, the GOP must co-opt Trump’s agenda and supplement it with new ideas and highlight the “economic elitism that animates the Democrat [sic] Party.”

Banks writes that the Republican Party needs to focus on cracking down on predatory trade practices and on protecting American jobs from international competition. With 75% of voters ranking protecting the jobs of American workers as their top foreign policy priority, Banks suggests that the GOP expose the Democratic Party’s embrace of globalization and their “opposition to policies that would reshore American manufacturing and create American jobs” by embracing a “Made in America Agenda.” In February, Banks proposed that the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill include a requirement that 1% of the Veteran Affairs budget be spent on American medical supplies. Every Democrat on the committee voted the proposal down, according to the Representative.

Banks’s ideas have struck a chord with his fellow Republicans. In February, Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) proposed a plan called the Family Security Act to increase financial security for American families. The plan would provide a universal $4,200 annual cash benefit for young children under age six and a $3,000 annual benefit for children aged six to seventeen. According to the senator, the plan would cut child poverty by up to one-third, promote marriage, and provide equal treatment for both working and stay-at-home parents “without adding a dime to the federal deficit” since the act would use reallocated funding. The Family Security Act’s universality shatters the traditional Republican notion that federal benefits must meet some criterion of need.

Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Mike Lee (R-UT) proposed an alternative plan that would increase the current Child Tax Credit to $3,500 for children under age six and $4,500 for children aged six to seventeen. The Child Tax Credit is available only to families with a minimum level of income from paid work. However, the two senators’ plan provides $500 more per year to children under age six and $300 more per year to children aged six to seventeen than Senator Romney’s plan does. Messrs Rubio and Lee’s plan and Senator Romney’s plan are both more generous than President Biden and the Democrats' plan, which was implemented earlier this year and provides families with an annual benefit of $3,600 per young child and $3,000 per school-aged child.

In a bid to boost working-class Americans’ wages, Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) proposed a “blue-collar bonus” in February, reasoning that wages for blue-collar workers have been stagnant for years and that coronavirus lockdowns worsened conditions for low-income Americans. The bonus would be delivered through a tax credit worth 50% of the difference between the median wage and an individual’s wage. For example, since the median wage is $16.50 an hour, if a worker made $12 per hour he or she would receive a $2.25 per hour credit from the Internal Revenue Service each taxable year. The bill awaits a vote from the Committee on Finance, to which it was referred on March 2.

Similarly, Senators Romney and Tom Cotton (R-AR) introduced a bill in February that would incrementally raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10 per hour and require businesses to use an online platform to verify workers’ identities to prevent illegal immigrants from securing employment. Romney reasoned that the rising cost of living coupled with a stagnant federal minimum wage has had a detrimental effect on working Americans. Senator Cotton added that American workers “compete against millions of immigrants for too few jobs with wages too low” and that the bill would help Americans to better support their families and end the black market for labor.

According to Gerald Seib of the Wall Street Journal, the Senators’ proposals shatter traditional conservative positions. Seib suggests that the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic has pushed the Republican party to become a proponent of economic policy that benefits working-class families even if doing so requires running a budget deficit. Senior Fellow at New America Lee Drutman agrees, arguing that Republican voters’ support for coronavirus stimulus packages, taxing the rich, and greater welfare spending means that the GOP can no longer be the party of Reagan. “Reaganism is dead,” he claims.

While the GOP is adapting to meet the needs of the working-class bloc, the Democrats have not ceded their working-class supporters without a struggle, and some question the authenticity of the Republican party’s pivot towards the working class. John Russo, co-editor of Working Class Perspectives, says that the Republican party’s claim that it represents the working class is “at best insincere and more likely political misdirection.” President Biden’s working-class upbringing and his involvement in “the most radical investment in the working class since the New Deal” reflects the Democratic Party’s drive to maintain the support of the working-class. In a speech made to congress on April 28th, Biden said that 90% of the jobs created by his infrastructure plan--which he labels "a blue-collar blueprint to build America"--would not require a college degree.