Republican Hopefuls Agree: The Key to the White House Is Working-Class Whites

Philip Rucker and Robert Costa, Washington Post, January 13, 2016

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{snip} As the nation diversifies and the GOP struggles to adapt, the presidential hopefuls see this demographic bloc as the key to taking back the White House.

“Some of them have never voted,” Cruz campaign manager Jeff Roe said. “It’s staggering. If they can be convinced to come out and vote, we win.”

There has been a debate within the party–and the political class–about whether Republicans need to diversify to win or whether it just needs to attract even more of its core constituencies. So far in 2016, led by Cruz and Donald Trump, the election has moved decisively toward the latter. The exceptions, such as Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham, are either out of the race or on the edges of it.

Trump is making the most visceral, raw appeal to people who feel left out of the economic recovery and ignored by the political establishment. He espouses hard-line views on immigration that border on nativism, protectionist trade policies and a tough approach with countries like China, Japan and Mexico that he portrays as thieves of U.S. manufacturing jobs.

Cruz, a Texas senator, is taking a similar tack, especially on immigration, airing a provocative television ad last week that depicts illegal immigrants racing across the U.S. border in suits and high heels to steal jobs from Americans.

By contrast, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is trying to connect with working-class voters through policy ideas. He advocates expanding vocational education and sings the virtues of manual labor. Bush’s aspirational economic message echoes Rubio.

Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich also make biographical overtures; the former talks about his unlikely journey as a son of Cuban immigrants, while the latter highlights his upbringing in a hard-scrabble Pennsylvania steel town.

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Whites without college degrees made up 41 percent of the overall electorate in 2012, though that share has declined steadily over the years, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. They made up a core part of Bill Clinton’s coalition in 1992 and 1996, but have moved away from Democrats in recent elections. President Obama lost this bloc by 25 points to GOP nominee Mitt Romney in 2012, the widest margin since Reagan’s 1984 landslide, according to national network exit polls.

As Republicans face difficulties winning over Latino, young and women voters, further maximizing support and turnout among working-class whites is critical.

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On the campaign trail, Trump fashions himself as a prophet for the aggrieved and downtrodden. Last week in Claremont, N.H., he bemoaned the skeletal remains of the region’s once-booming manufacturing economy–and he laid blame on the political leaders of both parties.

“I’m taking our jobs back from China,” Trump exhorted. “You people know better than anybody about jobs leaving an area. Look what happened to you? What the hell? . . . You look throughout New England, it’s still scarred all over the place after many years.”

The night before, he was in Lowell, Mass., sounding his familiar refrain about undocumented immigrants, whom he cast as shadowy villains responsible for sabotaging people’s livelihoods and degrading the country’s pride.

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More than anything, Trump’s rhetoric on immigration has captured the attention of working-class whites who say they had been falling away from party politics.

“None of [the candidates] are saying what they should be saying–‘Get them out of here’–except Trump,” said Tim Labelle, 73, a retired auto mechanic who voted for Obama in 2008. “They’re taking our jobs and they’re gonna take over our whole country if we don’t put an end to it.”

Trump claims he has widespread support from unionized workers. But Richard L. Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said in an interview that Trump is “trying to confuse them” with “blatant racism.”

“They’re not going to be duped by somebody saying, ‘I know we brought this engineer in for $25,000 when the average wage is $75,000, but don’t worry about that. Worry about this other guy raking your lawn, doing jobs that people normally don’t want that don’t even pay minimum wage,’ ” Trumka said. “He tries to make it seem as if these guys over here really are your enemy.”

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