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Liberals’ class warfare on the working class keeps Trump afloat

Donald Trump addresses his supporters during a rally at the Charleston Civic Center on May 5, 2016 in Charleston, WV.
Ricky Carioti | The Washington Post | Getty Images
Donald Trump addresses his supporters during a rally at the Charleston Civic Center on May 5, 2016 in Charleston, WV.

Everyone knows that Republicans have political problems, from their failure to repeal Obamacare to President Trump's erratic tweets to his sputtering efforts to make populism a governing philosophy. But what about Democrats? While their problems don't get as much media attention, Democrats are now both the minority party and a toxic brand to much of middle-class America.

Take last Friday, when Governor Jim Justice of West Virginia announced he was becoming a Republican. "The Democrats walked away from me," he told a Trump rally in Huntington. "Today I tell you as West Virginians, I can't help you any more being a Democrat governor."

"I think it's a sign of the times," Jose Gonzalez, a 37-year-old project manager at a local steel plant, told the Washington Post at the rally. "The Democratic Party used to look out for the downtrodden, but more and more working people are going for Republicans."

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Trump certainly broke the mold in 2016. He did better among low-income whites than among upper-income whites — the first time a Republican has done that at the presidential level. He won 62 percent of the vote among white voters without a college degree who make less than $30,000 a year. In 2012, Mitt Romney had only won 52 percent of votes in that group. They made the difference in key working-class states that Trump won, carrying them for the GOP for the first time since the 1980s — Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Republicans now control the White House and both houses of Congress and have complete executive and legislative control in 26 states.

Since the November election, Trump's popularity has largely held with those voters. Concerns about his lack of focus have been assuaged by the recent growth in jobs and wages. Democrats have not improved their position — in part because of their obsession with leading the "resistance" against Trump. A Washington Post/Abc News poll published July 19 found that 52 percent of Americans don't believe the Democratic party stands for anything beyond opposing Trump. Even 42 percent of nonwhite voters agree that Trump-bashing is all the party is focused on.

The Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic party is convinced it has a solution: have the party move left. "People are looking for a populism, but a multi-racial populism," Heather McGhee, of the leftist voting-rights group Demos, said on Meet the Press this morning. "They're looking for candidates who say, 'I'm willing to take on the wealthy and powerful, and also I'm not willing to let the wealthy and powerful divide us from each other so that they can have the spoils of our great nation.'"

But that's not what the polls taken by Democrats themselves are showing. The House Majority PAC last month released an exhaustive survey. McClatchy's Alex Roarty summarized the findings as "white voters without a college degree still view Trump relatively favorably, their opinion of Democrats is in the dumps, and they reject some of the party's favored economic initiatives."

"Indeed, the biggest challenge that liberals will face in trying to win back the voters who have drifted to the GOP is finding a way to conceal their agenda."

Asked which party will "improve the economy and create jobs," Republicans have a 35-point edge among white working-class Democrats. They have a 19-point edge when it comes to ensuring people are rewarded for their hard work, and a 15-point edge on middle-class tax cuts. Democrats have only a four-point edge on health care, a surprise given the unpopularity of the GOP's failed Senate plan.

The poll and its accompanying focus group found that Democrats are hurt by the perception that they care mostly about upper-income concerns such as free or reduced college tuition, and they look down with thinly veiled contempt on working-class voters. Many of those voters don't think college is a ticket to prosperity, and many prefer blue-collar jobs. "In short, when these voters hear people tell them that the answer to their concerns is college, their reaction is to essentially say — don't force your version of the American Dream on me," the House Majority PAC concluded.

Indeed, the biggest challenge that liberals will face in trying to win back the voters who have drifted to the GOP is finding a way to conceal their agenda — which is now geared toward identity politics, job-killing environmentalism, and expanding the welfare state. "We are seeing an ongoing class war by liberal elites against the middle and working classes," Joel Kotkin, a demographer and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism, told me in an interview.

Donald Trump won because he recognized the nature of that class war and appealed to those who were being hurt by it. Democrats aren't likely to win back the voters they've lost until they realize that many of those voters won't even listen to them if there isn't a truce in the class war they see being waged against them.

Commentary by John Fund, a national affairs correspondent at National Review. Follow him on Twitter @johnfund.

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©2017 National Review. Used with permission.