From mobile home parks in Florida and factory towns in Michigan, to Virginia’s coal country, where as many as one in five adults live on Social Security disability payments, disenchanted Republican voters lost faith in the agenda of their party’s leaders.Confessore says that the stirrings of discontent were noticeable even two years ago:
... While wages declined and workers grew anxious about retirement, Republicans offered an economic program still centered on tax cuts for the affluent and the curtailing of popular entitlements like Medicare and Social Security. And where working-class voters saw immigrants filling their schools and competing against them for jobs, Republican leaders saw an emerging pool of voters to court.
“They have to come to terms with what they created,” said Laura Ingraham, a conservative activist and talk-radio host. “They’ll talk about everything except the fact that their policies are unpopular.”
In early 2014, a group of neighbors from a Florida mobile home community called Carriage Cove, near Daytona, took seats in a town-hall-style meeting with Representative Ron DeSantis, a Republican. It was a mix of Republicans and Democrats, almost all of them seniors living on fixed incomes.But did this become a serious problem for DeSantis? No. Even though he signed a letter calling for a Social Security overhaul -- something you'd think would be a political blunder in Florida -- he went on to win reelection in 2014 by a 25-point margin. He's now running to replace Marco Rubio in the Senate, and even though he's trailing in the GOP primary race, he's already lined up support from the Tea Party Express, the Tea Party-linked FreedomWorks, Phyllis Schlafly (who's backing Donald Trump in the presidential race), Citizens United, and Tea Party senator Mike Lee. A Florida political analyst quoted by Southern Political Report calls DeSantis "the man to beat" in the primary.
They had come to ask Mr. DeSantis why he had put his name on a letter urging Republican leaders to take up Mr. Obama’s offer of a deal to overhaul Social Security. Mr. DeSantis seemed caught off guard, neighbors who attended the meeting recalled. He did not necessarily agree with everything in the letter, he told them. When they persisted, Mr. DeSantis left, explaining that he was not feeling well.
But maybe he'll lose a race he seems well positioned to win. What about a race in which a well-positioned candidate lost a stunning upset in 2014? Confessore writes:
In Virginia, an unheralded college professor from the Richmond suburbs named Dave Brat announced a primary challenge to Representative Eric Cantor, the majority leader. Mr. Brat attacked Mr. Cantor for his ties to Wall Street. But as the campaign heated up, Mr. Brat recalled in an interview, he began railing against his party’s immigration proposals. “I saw this very crony-ist aspect of the nation’s power structure pushing this agenda,” Mr. Brat said.So Brat was a proto-Trump? That's not what we were told by The Wall Street Journal's Kimberly Strassel after he upset Cantor:
That message helped propel Mr. Brat to victory....
Yes, immigration came up in this race, though it didn't get ugly until the end. It happens that Mr. Brat, an economics professor, spent the bulk of his campaign rallying voters to a traditional free-market, pro-growth economic agenda. It centered on a tough criticism of crony capitalism and a clarion call for a flatter and more efficient tax code.In fact, Cantor tried to put together an agenda aimed at the middle class -- and Brat won while sneering at it, Strassel writes:
... [Cantor's] "Making Life Work" agenda made him a poster boy of that new GOP impulse to focus on populist initiatives that cater to the middle class.But surely Brat, like Trump, agreed that existing benefit programs need to be preserved -- right? Well, no:
Mr. Brat openly derided "Making Life Work," referring to its "catchy little phrases to compete with Democrats for votes." As he told Mr. Hannity: "I do not want the federal government trying to make my life work."
Asked about cuts to Social Security Disability Insurance, Brat replied that he supported drastic reductions in payouts from social programs for seniors:Brat took some heat for this statement, which implied a two-thirds cut in benefits -- but when he took to Facebook to defend his position on benefit programs, he sounded exactly like a Romney/Ryan Republican:
I'll give you my general answer. And my general answer is you have to do what's fair. Right. So you put together a graph or a chart and you go out to the American people, you go to the podium, and you say, this is what you put in on average, this is what you get out on average. Currently, seniors are getting about three dollars out of all of the programs for every dollar they put in. So, in general, you've got to go to the American people and just be honest with them and say, "Here's what fairness would look like." Right. So, maybe the next ten years we have to grandfather some folks in, but basically we're going to move them in a direct line toward fairness and we have to live within our means.
We must protect current seniors as well as those nearing retirement (those who are 10 years or less from retirement) from any changes to the system....Last December, CNSNews reported that Brat is looking forward to Ryanesque entitlement reform:
For younger people, I propose phasing in a gradual increase in the eligibility age for receiving benefits. When Social Security was designed, the average life expectancy was 60; today it’s 79. The system wasn’t built for people living so long, which is why it’s running out of money. That’s why we need to fix it soon.
We also have to go after the egregious fraud that robs billions from Medicare and the Social Security Disability program.
Brat advocates reforming, not cutting, the mandatory spending programs so they won't be insolvent by the next generation. That includes raising the retirement age for future beneficiaries.As for free trade, Brat once told Chuck Todd:
"So we've got some heavy lifting to do." He noted that House Speaker Paul Ryan has "expertise" in both entitlement reform and budgeting, "so hopefully we can do that."
Yeah, I’m a free trader. After World War II, the GATT brought tariffs roughly from 50% down to about 4% or less today. And that’s been good for European trade with us. We set up our arch-enemies Japan and Germany after the war, started trading with them, and it enriched all of us. I have a win-win positive view about relationships with other countries that respect the rule of law. So we have to move forward on that front.He opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but apparently only because he thinks Barack Obama is evil -- he likes globalism in the abstract:
“Trade is hugely important,” says Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va. “The move toward free markets [in China and India] has lifted 2.5 billion people out of poverty. That’s what we want to achieve. Everyone on this panel cares about every single person on this planet. But we just got done going through a major trust issue with President Obama’s unconstitutional amnesty.”Oh, and he voted to repeal the estate tax, which applies only to millionaires.
“So I am leaning heavy no [on the bill] because I don’t think we are taking into account these institutional concerns—the relationship between the executive branch and Congress,” he concluded.
... Brat said he would only vote for Trade Promotion Authority if Obama “gets rid of unconstitutional amnesty” ...
So we're not living in a brave new world in which survival as a Republican candidate means rejecting every aspect of the GOP establishment's agenda. Hating undocumented immigrants is important, but beyond that, you can be a "new" Republican while taking positions that are only marginally different from those of old Republicans. Angry Republican voters will barely notice the difference. They just want to be told that you hate the old guard, that they're going to win now, and that someone they're angry at is going to lose.