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David Harsanyi has a new opinion piece in the Federalist where he asserts that the GOP has a populist problem. Like many that have been analyzing the disappointing GOP election results in last week’s elections, Harsanyi is putting out an opinion on why favorable conditions are not resulting in more wins.
His thesis is that the GOP messaging/candidates are too populist. The cause is that the candidates reflect the desires of the Trumpian base, but the policies are not appealing to the rest of the electorate, and the Trumpian base only comes out to vote for Trump.
Other than some platitudes about Bidenomics, what was the GOP’s economic message? They don’t have one. The right’s misplaced obsession with “working class” voters has led to a watered-down, leftist approach to the economy that creates a muddled, incoherent rhetorical mess on an issue Republicans should be dominating.
In most places, the working class is shrinking, and the middle class keeps growing. People are moving out of the Rust Belt to Nevada and Florida, and yet a big chunk of the GOP is reluctant to press on tax cuts and deregulation for fear of sounding too much like “Reagan” — the worst sin one can apparently commit these days.
Most suburban families are dispositional conservatives. Many are not strongly ideological. They certainly won’t be galvanized in large numbers by “based” dunks on libs. And yet, so many Republican candidates tie themselves to the aesthetic and tonal qualities admired by the new right social media grifter class. These people live in a hermetically sealed political bubble.
I think he has a point about many GOP politicians ignoring bread-and-butter issues, because they are afraid to go against Trump and his base. It is short-sighted to focus on the Trump base, because in 12 months Trump’s last campaign will be over. However, I think Harsanyi goes to far with his stark contrast of “Reaganism” and “Populism” defining a strict dichotomy. Depending on which taxes are being cut, I would say all the “Reagan” issues listed (tax cuts, deregulation, judges, law and order) are really populist issues. He overstates the policy divide.
Moreover, the new right took all the wrong lessons from 2016. Trump’s greatest victories were completely in line with post-1980s Reagan conservatism — a tax cut, deregulation, constitutionalist judges, and tougher stances on crime and lawlessness. But when Trump won Michigan and Pennsylvania in 2016, right-wing institutions convinced themselves that populist messaging was the future.
That Harsanyi chooses to use the derogatory “populist” label tells us that he has corporatist/establishment leanings. What is populism if not a government of/by/for the people and an opposition to elitism and government of/by/for the ruling class? Despite his bias, I do think he has a point about GOP candidates not forging their own voice on Americanist polices. Nobody can be Trump except Trump. He is a unicorn. It is a mistake to depend on the Trump base in an off-year election and candidates should seek to appeal to more of the electorate. The Democrats have painted themselves into a neo-communist/neo-Marxist corner, and the GOP, with proper messaging, should be able to win a lot of votes.Published in