MEMO to Republican legislators biting your nails over the New York primary, wondering if you can finally derail Donald J. Trump’s candidacy with, gulp, Ted Cruz: You brought it on yourselves.I think Rattner has a point. I think it could also be argued that much more profound economic interventions would have been necessary to help the voters Trump is appealing to now, and it's not clear whether President Obama held back on those because he's ideologically left-centrist or because he proposed only what he thought was politically realistic (even though, as it turned out, even the mild proposals weren't politically realistic, as a result of GOP intransigence).
Not just by failing for too long to take Mr. Trump seriously or by lacking an effective response once you did. That’s well-covered territory. Most important, you created the anger that lifted his candidacy by years of systematically and effectively preventing passage of legislation that might have ameliorated the tough economic state of Mr. Trump’s core voters.
... Take, for example, the administration’s 2011 proposal of a $447 billion package of measures including payroll tax cuts and the creation of an infrastructure bank that would have led to the creation of thousands of construction jobs, as well as other substantial economic benefits.
Designed to be bipartisan and fully paid for by higher taxes on rich Americans and some corporations, the American Jobs Act was nonetheless dead virtually upon its arrival on Capitol Hill.
That’s not all. During his administration, Mr. Obama put forth proposals for larger tax credits for child care; community college investments; expansion of the earned-income tax credit; changing retirement plans to be portable across employers and available to part-time workers; and tax credits for manufacturing communities.
All these -- and many more -- were ignored by Congress. Even seemingly obvious steps, like continuing federal emergency benefits for the large number of long-term unemployed, have been blocked.
But an article that appeared in the Times a week and a half ago makes me wonder whether more powerful economic intervention really would have made these voters feel any better. As it turns out, there's Trump Fever even where the economy has truly bounced back:
ELKHART, Ind. -- Seven years ago President Obama came to this northern Indiana city, where unemployment was heading past 20 percent, for his first trip as president. Ed Neufeldt, the jobless man picked to introduce him, afterward donned three green rubber bracelets, each to be removed in turn as joblessness fell to 5 percent in the county, the state and the nation.Rattner is right that Republicans refused to cooperate with the president and thus blocked a lot of his agenda, but the stimulus and the auto bailout got through in Obama's early days, and Elkhart benefited. Now it's a place where jobs are not only plentiful but good:
It took years -- in 2012, Mr. Neufeldt lamented to a local reporter that he might wear his wristbands “to my casket” -- but by last year they had all come off. Elkhart’s unemployment rate, at 3.8 percent, is among the country’s lowest, so low that employers here in the self-described R.V. capital of the world are advertising elsewhere for workers, offering sign-up bonuses, even hiring from a local homeless shelter.
... Yet where is Mr. Neufeldt leaning in this presidential election year? He may keep a photograph of himself and Mr. Obama on a desk at the medical office he cleans nightly, but he is considering Donald J. Trump.
“I like the way he just won’t take nothing off of nobody,” Mr. Neufeldt said....
Billboards proclaim, “Hiring: Welders. Up to $23/hour” ...And yet:
Nearly half of Elkhart County’s jobs are in manufacturing, a higher proportion than in all but 13 of the 3,140 counties nationwide, according to Jerry Conover, director of the Indiana Business Research Center at Indiana University. With so many skilled factory workers, he said, local wages are above national averages though education levels are relatively modest....
Mark Dobson, the president of the Economic Development Corporation of Elkhart County, said his group was using social media to advertise widely that Elkhart offers “head-of-household opportunities” — industrial jobs that pay perhaps $75,000, enough for a single wage earner to sustain a family.
... many people here -- like Americans elsewhere -- harbor unshakable anxiety about stagnant wages, their economic future and the erosion of the middle class generally. Antigovernment resentments over past bank bailouts linger... And social issues such as abortion, gun rights, same-sex marriage, the Affordable Care Act and immigration loom larger than any other for some voters.Ah, yes -- there are other issues involved:
"Whether [President Obama] gets the credit or not, people’s home equity has gone back up, fuel prices are the best we’ve had in a long time, there’s a lot of things that make this all go,” Larry Thompson, a former longtime mayor of nearby Nappanee and a Republican, said as he showed off an expanding cabinetry factory, Kountry Wood Products.If the whole country had a strong job picture right now, including a strong manufacturing sector, maybe the white working class wouldn't be turning to Trump now. But I'm not sure. Republicans blocked the Obama economic agenda for most of his presidency, -- but beyond that, they created the sense that America is going to hell in a handbasket and it's all Obama's fault. That view seems to be pervasive even in white heartland communities that are doing well. Mayor Thompson's reference to "other things [Obama's] been involved with that people in our area" don't like could be a reference to anything: gay marriage, expressions of support for racial and ethnic diversity, expansion of access to healthcare (which a lot of heartland whites thought was meant to benefit only Those People), failure to demonize Muslims, support for gun control ... make your own list. When the Elkhart article first appeared, a lot of people read that strictly as a reference to race, but I think it's a reference to a whole range of Democratic and liberal priorities. I think white heartlanders will resent Hillary Clinton for the same reasons if she's president.
“But I think that maybe it’s just some of the other things he’s been involved with that people in our area” -- Mr. Thompson stopped, shaking his head in unspoken reference to various social issues.
So, yeah, Republican lack of interest in ordinary Americans' economic fate helped create Trump. But so did Republican rhetoric about the alleged evils of the Obama administration.