×

Why Trump should have run as a Democrat

Donald Trump
Jacob Slaton | Reuters
Donald Trump

Conservative talk radio hosts and publications started questioning whether Donald Trump was a real conservative or even a true Republican about a month ago. But the Iowa caucus results should end the argument about Trump's philosophies and put a new focus on his tactics. Iowa proved Trump is running for the wrong party's nomination. He would have done much better as a Democrat.

"The real way the Democrats win elections, when they do win elections, is by connecting with the voters who are concerned about the economy."

Let me explain.

Sure, Trump has said a number of things that seem to disqualify him as a modern day Democrat. His focus on combating illegal immigration, threats to block all Muslim entry and misogynist comments all seem like deal breakers in the politically correct Democratic party.

But what too many people in the news media, and even many Democrats in office, have forgotten is that the true electoral strength of the Democratic Party is not its appeal to racial minorities based on race alone, or women based on gender alone, or even immigrants based on nationality alone. The real way the Democrats win elections, when they do win elections, is by connecting with the voters who are concerned about the economy.

This is especially true of poor and lower middle class wage earners in America who still represent the largest single economic cross section of the nation. And Donald Trump's message speaks to that class in a big way, even as all his bluster so offends the elite liberal media and elitist cultural liberals who control Democratic Party.

To explain further, it's important to understand that there are four basic economic classes in this country. In a blog post that is going viral, as they say, this week, author John Michael Greer defined these four classes as the Investment Class, the Salary Class, the Hourly Wage Earning Class, and the Welfare Class.

Greer pointed out that over the last 40 to 50 years, the wage class has mostly suffered while the other three classes have mostly prospered or stayed the same. Hourly wage earners have gone from having good manufacturing jobs to seeing those jobs mostly disappear in favor of lower-paying service jobs. And those jobs suffer constant wage deflationary pressure from factors like massive immigration and automation.

Despite those pressures, the Democrats in office who purport to represent these wage earners literally scold and shame anyone who even complains that mass immigration pushes down wages and shifts jobs away from the native population. Meanwhile, the Republican Party is filled with leaders and pundits who respond to wage earners' concerns about the economy by often calling them whiners or layabouts. Wage-earners in America are getting it from both sides.

Enter Trump.

His rhetoric on immigration, however shocking to the liberal elite, strikes a chord with many wage earners. His attacks on Wall Street, insulting comments for candidates like Jeb Bush, and his on-again, off-again feud with FOX News all worry and concern traditional conservatives, but they accomplish the same result. A big chunk of American wage earners ate it up. That, along with an incredible advantage in name recognition, is why Donald Trump could seemingly do no wrong before Tuesday.

But then Tuesday rolled around and Trump lost the Iowa GOP caucus. And that proved something he and many others should have realized months ago: the wage earners in America who do vote, especially in primaries and caucuses, are Democrats.

In Iowa, Trump was foiled by the party's traditional base of Evangelicals, higher-earning salaried workers, and investment class voters who are just not comfortable with him or his campaign. And while a decidedly non-Evangelical New Hampshire should still provide Trump a needed victory this coming Tuesday, he will find lots more Iowas and fewer New Hampshires on the GOP primary schedule ahead of him.

If he could do it all over again, Trump and his campaign strategists should have switched parties because the Democratic Party's abandonment of the wage class in favor of cultural/social wedge issues provided him with a better opportunity to win.

While conservatives believe the Republican Party has always had a better plan to help the economic fortunes of wage earners and all Americans who want to work, the fact is most of the American voting public has never truly bought that argument. People believe that Democrats are for the "little guy;" and that perception is not really changing any time soon.

But Democrats don't seem to be all that much for the American little guy when they continue to push for open immigration that depresses wages, environmental regulations that close factories, and social issues like abortion and gay rights that take them away from focusing on economic opportunities. The strength of Senator Bernie Sanders' surging campaign is proving that refocusing on economic angst is always the better way to go.

But Trump could have beaten him to that message with the added credibility of being a billionaire businessman who knows how the economy works. Trump is also free to challenge the rosy economic message President Obama is now pushing that surely rubs struggling wage earners the wrong way. And for all of Sanders populist messaging, he's still mostly connecting with salary class voters. When the primaries shift to the South and its base of wage earning Democrats, his campaign is in trouble.

Meanwhile, being a very rich candidate who just happens to cross class lines to run as a Democrat worked extremely well for a couple of guys named FDR and JFK, (I never said Trump's playbook had to be brand new). And all the questions Sanders is raising about Mrs. Clinton's ties to the big banks and pharmaceutical companies could have just as easily come out of Trump's mouth months ago.

To be sure, the early news media reaction to Trump running as a Democrat would have been much more fierce than it was for him as a Republican. But fighting with the news media has been a big winner on the campaign trail for Trump too, mostly because the wage earning class sees the news media, be it FOX or MSNBC, as ignoring and attacking them too.

Would Trump have done better in Iowa as a Democrat? Probably. And he would also stand a better chance going forward in the primaries on the other side of the aisle. Again, wage earners are still the biggest part of the voting public and those of them who do vote are registered Democrats and they usually want to vote Democrat too.

Trump very easily could have been their man, shocking as it may be to the pundits, Hillary Clinton, and even the Trump campaign itself.

Commentary by Jake Novak, the supervising producer of "Power Lunch" and former supervising producer of "The Kudlow Report." Prior to joining CNBC, Novak co-created and oversaw the "Varney and Company" program on FOX Business Network along with anchor Stuart Varney. He also spent seven years at CNN, producing financial news programs including launching the successful "In the Money" show with anchor Jack Cafferty.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.