Republicans Becoming The Party Of The Working Class

At 10:53 P.M. on Election Tuesday, as it seemed clear that Donald Trump would win Florida while the rest of the electoral battlegrounds remained in doubt, the young Republican Senator Josh Hawley, of Missouri, tweeted, “We are a working class party now. That’s the future.”

Hawley has been making this case since shortly after he was elected to the Senate, in 2018, taking high-profile stances antagonistic to Silicon Valley and arguing for a conservatism oriented around an opposition to “cosmopolitan élites.” There was a lot of talk like this from young conservatives early in Trump’s term, and it could sound like an effort to flatter the President’s instincts. But, in Tuesday night’s results, the imprint of class was, if anything, clearer than it had been four years ago. Voters without college degrees continued to slide toward Republicans, and those with them, toward Democrats: according to exit polls, Joe Biden won college-educated voters by thirteen points. In the Midwest, even union ties may have done little to tether non-college-educated voters to Democrats. According to exit polls in Ohio, voters in union households favored Trump by fourteen points; those in non-union households favored him by just eight.

After 2016, many Democrats could, and did, argue that their struggles with working-class voters were due in part to their candidate, Hillary Clinton. That argument now seems less plausible: it is harder to blame the top of the ticket in 2016 or 2020. Among Biden’s most visible supporters on the campaign trail were members of the International Association of Fire Fighters, with whom he has long had a close political relationship. He was particularly attentive to issues and imagery thought to resonate with working-class Midwesterners, taking a more equivocal line on fracking than many other Democrats and branding the race (relentlessly, in the final weeks) as a contest between Scranton, where he was born, and Park Avenue. Primary voters often defended their preference for Biden by saying that he stood the best chance of any Democrat of winning back working-class Midwestern enclaves. If he only partly succeeded, then what Democrat could?

Democrats have long insisted that the future of American politics lies in increasingly educated, multiracial Sun Belt cities such as Atlanta, Houston, and Phoenix. But for many Republicans the future may be embodied by Florida, which Trump has now won twice and where Republicans have held the governor’s mansion since 1999. That state has begun to hold out a new possibility—that the nation could become less white without becoming much less conservative. On Tuesday night, Trump won the votes of Floridians without college degrees by four points with a campaign that focussed heavily on his opposition to the democratic-socialist left—to Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who Republicans claimed would set a Biden Administration’s agenda. At the same time, in an interesting juxtaposition, a ballot measure that will raise Florida’s minimum wage to fifteen dollars an hour passed with more than sixty per cent of the vote, winning even in conservative Florida counties like Polk, Pasco, and Sumter. Not long ago, only socialists and trade-unionists were willing to get behind a fifteen-dollar-an-hour minimum wage. You could look at numbers like these and think all that remains is for Republican politicians to follow the lead of their voters.

Easier said than done, of course—realignments are scarce in American politics, and Mitch McConnell, who has kept his Party focussed on a program of tax cuts for the wealthy for a decade, looks likely to retain power in the Senate. But the results so far suggest again that Trumpism is here to stay, whatever becomes of Trump, and that the next version might have an even greater emphasis on nationalism, anti-cosmopolitanism, and perhaps a Hawley-style opposition to Silicon Valley. (Last month, my colleague Nicholas Lemann outlined three possible possible paths for conservatism: this, which he called the Remnant, was one.) On Wednesday morning, the Catholic conservative legal scholar Adrian Vermuele, of Harvard, tweeted, “The future will be multiracial, working class, socially conservative populism and I can’t wait.” Hawley retweeted that.

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