A fifth grade book report scrawled hastily on the bus ride to school. A sandwich made with a single slice of translucent ham. A teenager throwing dirty clothes under the bed as a way of cleaning his room. To this pantheon of the World’s Most Pathetic Attempts, we must now add: The GOP’s reinvention as a “working class party.” For an organization so adept at lying to the public, it’s a little disappointing that they’re not trying harder here.
Always and everywhere, the art of politics has depended in large part on tricking an ignorant populace about what you are actually doing. On this, we must give the Republican Party high marks. It is a party that exists primarily to protect and increase the wealth of the rich, and it has managed to enlist tens of millions of unwary non-rich people to flock to this cause. Their most revered standard bearer of modern times was Ronald Reagan, a B‑list actor who railed against the government that employed him and supported death squads that murdered nuns while passing himself off as the family values candidate. The party’s most recent president, Donald Trump, was one of the most brazenly ignorant men in the country, who resorted to just waving around a physical Bible because he couldn’t quote any of the words inside. This, along with the act of rubbing his face against an American flag, was enough to convince a large chunk of religious people in America that he was one of them, despite his divorces, idolatry and vocal support of the death penalty for innocent men. The Republican Party’s track record of waving flags, guns, and crosses enthusiastically enough to create a blur that obscures the fact that they’re funneling everyone’s money directly into the pockets of the class of people who need it the least is one of conspicuous success. I respect their talent for sleight of hand, if not anything else about them.
Trump — a man who literally lives in a golden palace in the sky — found some success branding himself the “Blue Collar Billionaire,” a phrase that mostly meant he was willing to talk like an asshole, which Republican strategists assume is the main characteristic of anyone blue collar. From this humble seed has sprouted a tentative party-wide attempt to wrap itself in the cloak of The Working Class. The substance of this attempt, however, is enough to make you suspect that these elected leaders may, perhaps, be somewhat less than sincere.
Leaving aside the goofy campaign videos of candidates holding guns and the constant allusions to “family farms” to justify policies crafted by Monsanto, here, according to the Wall Street Journal, are the recent policy proposals that underlie the Republican “Working Class Party” claim: 1) various proposals for tax credits aimed at families with children, floated by Senators Rubio, Lee, Romney, and a conservative think tank; 2) a Josh Hawley-authored proposal for a tax credit tied to hours worked; and 3) a proposal by Romney and Tom Cotton to raise the minimum wage to a whopping $10 an hour, which is tied to a plan to ensure no undocumented immigrants get it.
That’s it! A glorious plan to elevate the working class to grandeur with a few tax credits and a shitty minimum wage with an element of racism built into it. One of the funniest things about this meager platform is that it reveals that the Republican Party assumes the “working class” is both uniformly racist and enamored by tax credits, two assumptions that are not only false but which clearly originated with exactly the type of K Street/ Ivy League political reptiles who have no direct contact with the working class.
Who is leading this Republican blue collar revolution? Donald Trump, the born-rich billionaire property developer? Mitt Romney, the private equity executive? Josh Hawley, the Yale Law School attorney? Ted Cruz, the Harvard Law School attorney, who resembles a humanoid pile of pizza dough with the mannerisms of a crooked televangelist? Or maybe Tucker Carlson, the bow tie-wearing son of an ambassador and heir to the Swanson frozen food fortune? Not a single one of these baby-handed private school scum could do one day’s work of a union nurse at a public hospital without passing out from fevered delirium, yet they propose to lead the American working class into the promised land — one full of, you know, modest tax credits and racism.
To this amusingly paltry set of policies we should grudgingly add the Republican Party’s campaign against “wokeness” and “cancel culture,” the most recent made-up terms for the same right wing culture war that has been waged against everything from “political correctness” to “integration.” I am not convinced that people working three jobs are going to adopt as their top issue the possibility that a college professor might lose a book contract for saying something bad about trans people. It just doesn’t strike me as an adequate substitute for, say, a significant wage increase. I don’t underestimate the American appetite for racism, but the working class in general is much more concerned with getting “canceled” by a landlord evicting them from their apartment than with getting canceled by, say, your elite media colleagues who think you are a jerk. Keep workshopping this, GOP.
The most surprising thing about all of this is that history is replete with politicians who have proven that actually progressive economic policies mixed with pandering to white grievance and racism is a winning formula. Today’s Republicans just can’t pull this off, because their donors would not stand for the progressive economic part. Instead, they are trying to lean into the white grievance and hope that the working class won’t notice that it is not paired with anything that will make their lives materially better. And that is why this little foray into populist cosplay will ultimately fail. Voters may be ignorant, prejudiced, gullible, and susceptible to all sorts of misinformation — but they can count. Bank accounts don’t lie. The class war can only have one winner, and when it comes to the the interests of the working class, Republicans are on the wrong side.
Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. You can reach him at Hamilton@InTheseTimes.com.