Does Either Party Really Want the White Working Class?

Francine Kiefer, Christian Science Monitor, April 19, 2016

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders appear to have ignited a working class revolution among white voters, inspiring huge rallies of people on the right and the left who feel abandoned by “the system.”

Regardless of what happens in New York’s primary Tuesday, their revolutions show no sign of diminishing. Yet only one of the parties has made any significant move toward appeasing these voters.

Ironically, it’s the party that might need them less.

Despite having built a strong Democratic coalition of minority and women voters, Hillary Clinton has pivoted to the left on trade, and more recently, on the $15 minimum wage to appeal to Senator Sanders’ supporters.

Many Republicans, by contrast, are deep in #NeverTrump mode, coalescing around a candidate they do not like–Ted Cruz–in part to prevent Mr. Trump’s voters from dragging the party toward a more populist stance on issues from trade to entitlements.

Though the white working class has never been smaller as a share of the electorate, it is a powerful bloc–as this topsy-turvy election attests. Political observers say that parties ignore lower-wage white voters at their peril.

That is particularly true for Republicans. The two lead candidates have essentially doubled down on their overwhelmingly white voter base in this election–openly antagonizing Latinos, for example. Without Trump’s voters, the Republican Party faces mounting problems, some say.

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And even if Trump were to win the presidency, he would have a hard time getting establishment and tea party type conservatives behind his positions. His preferences for keeping Social Security untouched and scuttling trade deals, and his his talk of closing tax “loopholes for the very rich and special interests”–all are apostasy to most Republicans in Congress.

Still, it’s not as if Republicans don’t recognize that the GOP has overlooked the working class. “You have to give Trump credit for identifying a target that’s ripe for a hostile takeover,” says Sen. Ben Sasse (R) of Nebraska, who shook the party by announcing he would neither vote for Trump if he won the nomination nor for Hillary Clinton, but would seek out a third candidate.

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On the Democratic side, analysts say lower-income whites might also be overlooked if Hillary Clinton wins the nomination and presidency.

There is “no love lost” between organized labor and the Clintons, says Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University. Industrial workers remember the stagnant wages and factories that closed under the North American Free Trade Agreement during the Bill Clinton years.

At the same time, Democrats are focused on “the new working class,” as Democratic researcher and analyst Tamara Draut calls it in her new book, “Sleeping Giant.” This group is made up mostly of females and minorities. It is making its voice heard through movements such as the “Fight for $15” minimum wage and unionization, “Black Lives Matter,” and “Dreamers” representing young undocumented immigrants.

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