Paul Ryan and the Working-Class Vote: What Difference Will He Make?
At the heart of today’s Republican ideology is a commitment to protecting the interests of the wealthy. But strangely, its core voting base consists of uneducated, working-class citizens — and poor whites in particular. For decades, since Barry Goldwater’s failed 1964 campaign and subsequent implementation of Nixon’s Southern strategy, the GOP has enjoyed a bastion of working-class white voters in the same way that African Americans became stalwart Democrats.
The irony is that while liberals have supported an agenda of civil rights — which naturally appealed to black voters — Republicans have chosen a deductive strategy, using divisive, racially infused campaigns that demonize minorities as the source of societal ills and frame conservative, faith-based principles as an answer. Relying on cultural divides, Republicans have managed to secure the loyalty of poor whites even though conservatives push economic policies — like sending manufacturing jobs offshore — that hurt the very people who are now their base.
Instead of expanding their party’s membership by including minorities and young voters, Republicans chose to double-down, reinforcing its image as a white-male-dominated franchise. The original thinking, it appears, was that by using coded messages questioning Obama’s nationality and religion, the GOP could lead white voters — regardless of socioeconomic status — to distrust the president.
The midterm elections of 2010 proved that these tactics were effective. Recent polls by Quinnipiac and Pew Research show that Obama has lost support among white voters without a college degree. He now averages 34 percent within the group, despite having won 40 percent of that vote in 2008.
Already Ryan has followed Romney’s surreptitious lead, saying in a 60 Minutes interview with CBS’ Bob Schieffer that he’s willing to turn over only two years of tax returns. The two candidates appear to be applying for country club membership in the old boys’ network — not trying to become leaders of the free world and an ethnically, racially and culturally diverse nation.
This Republican ticket reflects a party of dead ideas, stuck in a past that we need to forget.