Kasich + Trump = A Better GOP

Kasich + Trump = A Better GOP


John McCain and Mike Huckabee. Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum. John Kasich and Donald Trump.

The combined ideas of each of these pairings- tempered and adjusted into something not so disjointed, of course- would make for a mean new electoral strategy and governing agenda for the GOP. Let’s take a look.

The McCain-Huntsman-Kasich “Maverick” camp tends to be on the leftward end of the GOP’s Reagan-Gingrich Establishment (and indeed, each of John Weaver’s clients traces their political origins to the 80s and 90s.) They are socially more moderate and politically more reformist than most Establishment Republicans- McCain co-authored campaign finance reform legislation that bears his name, Huntsman founded the bipartisan group No Labels, and Kasich regularly points to his pragmatic record as Governor of Ohio. As such, over the years they’ve been the subject of gushy mainstream media profiles hailing them as the best of Republicans, those who would save the GOP from its backwards conservative ways.

The Huckabee-Santorum-Trump “Populist” camp, meanwhile, associates with movement conservatives in the Reagan-Gingrich Establishment, particularly on social and cultural issues, but splits with them in endorsing economic populism over conservative laissez-faire economics. Huckabee and Santorum spoke of reviving manufacturing jobs, building new infrastructure, and lessening tax burdens on the White Working Class, while Trump has called for trade protectionism, restricted immigration, progressive taxation, and the full preservation of Social Security and Medicare. Though often derided as “the Radical Right,” these candidates and their voters are not instinctively ideologically conservative the way, say, Ted Cruz or National Review are.

On the surface, the two camps could not seem more different. But upon closer inspection, they share something in common- a desire to reform the Reagan-Gingrich Establishment and the face and policy of the Republican Party, albeit in different ways. The Mavericks want the GOP to be more socially moderate and politically reformist, to attract independents and govern more effectively in tandem with Democrats (and though they’re supply-siders, they’re not dogmatically so.) The Populists want the GOP to be more economically nationalist and culturally conservative, to better respond to the needs and honor of working people (but opposition to gay marriage and abortion aren’t exactly their highest priorities.) These are, it seems, two of the paths the GOP could take forward.

Why not take both?

In my view, there’s a fairly straightforward way a cunningly Nixonian political operator could wed social moderation and economic nationalism to craft a coalition between the Trumpian white working class and socially moderate business leaders in productivity industries. That way is the way of the Whigs, the Lincoln Republicans, and the New Deal Democrats- adopt some form of inclusive, pro-working class, pro-industry economic nationalism.

Basically, rather than reflexively endorsing lower tax rates and deregulation, this great uniter of Mavericks and Populists would push for an update of Lincoln’s and FDR’s American System and Social Contract. The binding tie between the factions would be federal partnership with and support of strategic productivity industries like energy, heavy manufacturing, defense, aerospace, shipping, construction, and the like. The Mavericks would benefit because strong strategic industries are more apt to support bipartisan political reform than the GOP Establishment’s current clientele, the financial industry. The Populists would benefit because productivity industries provide high-wage/low-skill jobs for the white working class (and, for that matter, inner-city Blacks and working-class Latinos.)

Aside from this main shared interest, the Mavericks and Populists could come together on the necessity of infrastructure and innovation investments, strategies to reform and preserve universal entitlements, pro-U.S. export trade deals, progressive taxation, an immigration strategy restricting the flow of low-skilled workers into the country, and the like. All this would bind working-class voters, economically, to a Maverick or a reformer attempting to weld Maverick and Populist voters together.

With the white working class secured economically through the rejection of supply-side economics, the new Maverick or reformer would no longer be constrained (as the Reagan-Gingrich Establishment has been for three decades) to mouthing more and more extreme versions of social conservatism to keep them in the coalition. The hypothetical reformer could then focus on political reform and social moderation in an attempt to bring centrist-leaning independents on to bolster the coalition.

Of course, it’s not a perfect fit- both factions would have to give and take a bit. The Mavericks would have to abandon supply-side economics and austerity in entirety, while the Populists would have to further de-emphasize social issues. But these are tweaks, not transformations. Both camps have much to gain from this kind of nationalism, and an ascendant leader who combined social moderation with pro-industry/pro-worker economic policies could probably rack up endorsements from both the Mavericks and Populists.

Perhaps it’s ironic that a strategy for the GOP to recapture its White Working Class base from the likes of Trump would involve repudiating Reaganomics and adopting working-class populism straight out of the New Deal Democrat playbook. But does anyone seriously think that the GOP can just double down on supply-side policies from the 1980s and expect to gain the fealty of Trump supporters? Or for that matter, focus on social traditionalism in a modernizing world full of independents, social liberals, and minorities?

It seems eminently reasonable to me that a party- or at least a faction or even just a single leader in the party- seeking to quell an insurgency among white workers while expanding among independents- would adopt policies that have historically sated white workers and attracted independents. And if those policies could be mixed into one doctrine and strategy- as they can be, in this case- it would seem reasonable for that party or movement to take a long, hard look at itself and see what it would have to do to move towards that new doctrine.

But inertia oftentimes precludes common sense. I don’t expect John Kasich to suddenly become a New Deal-style populist (though it’s more likely that he’ll endorse nationalist economics than that Trump will embrace social moderation.) That said, the current crisis facing the GOP- unpopularity among independents and centrists, and open revolt by white workers- presents an opportunity for an upcoming leader willing to and capable of fusing the policy thought of the Mavericks and the Populists.


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