Franke: Not Your Grandfather’s GOP

April 21, 2021

by Mark Franke

It was the fall of 1988 and my entire family was together. The conversation turned to the upcoming presidential election between George H. W. Bush and Michael Dukakis. 

My father held forth on what he believed, which tracked quite consistently with that year’s Republican platform. So I asked him if he were voting for Bush. Of course not; he would be voting for Dukakis because the Democrats stood for “the little man.” When I pointed out this inconsistency, his response is best forgotten.

What had happened, unbeknownst to Dad, was that he remained faithful to his beliefs. It was the national Democrat party that changed, moving significantly to the left even back then. Dad was truly a Reagan Democrat; he just didn’t know it.

Ronald Reagan, himself an erstwhile Democrat, understood what these “little men” dreamed for their families. We used to call that the American Dream before our language succumbed to the post-modern inferno that is consuming it.

What began as the Reagan revolution among blue-collar voters has continued. The Republican party is becoming the party of affinity for much of the middle and working classes. Consider some voting blocks that the Democrats have taken for granted but which are becoming more voting booth diverse.

Blue-collar workers, even union members, are voting Republican in increasing numbers. As many union members classify themselves as strong Republican as self-classify as strong Democrat according to a recent poll. This identification is even more pronounced among younger union members.

In New York City Donald Trump received about 200,000 more votes in 2020 than he did in 2016, while Joe Biden polled fewer votes than Hilary Clinton four years ago.

Hispanic-Latino voters are shifting rightward, particularly in large cities with significant immigrant populations. A New York Times map of 2020 voting in Chicago clearly demonstrates this shift.

Even among black voters, particularly men, a shift is evident. While still overwhelmingly Democrat, black voters are marginally moving Republican — enough so that the Democrats can’t take black voters for granted.

Note that these new Republicans are not all rural or low income or poorly educated as media stereotypes would have us believe. They are poster boys and girls for the Protestant work ethic, to use another micro-aggressive phrase.

What is equally interesting is to examine which groups are moving leftward toward the Democrat party. Let’s start with the wealthiest Americans, the despised one percenters. One datapoint is to look at the top 100 political contributors for their party affiliation. 

Fifty-seven of the top 100 contributors in 2012, the first year of data available at the site, were Republicans and accounted for 70 percent of the total donations. In 2020 these numbers reversed, with 53 of 100 being Democrat. This may not seem significant but it does put the lie to claims that the GOP is the party of the rich.

Total political contributions for federal elections in 2020 was almost $10 billion and favored the Democrats by nearly 2:1. Is it a coincidence that liberal clarion calls for getting big money out of politics have suddenly gone quiet? 

One thing I learned in my first semester economics class is that people act rationally in their own interest as they see it. This infatuation by the super rich with politicians pushing confiscatory tax proposals, constraints on Bill of Rights freedoms and seemingly unquenchable government grasp for unlimited power just makes no sense to me — unless the self-interest is that of the corporate execs personally without regard for that of their shareholders. Short-sighted and self-delusional, to say the least.

Comrade Lenin is quoted, likely apocryphally, as bragging that capitalists will sell him the rope he uses to hang them. Perhaps it is time to display that quote prominently in America’s corporate boardrooms and in Manhattan penthouses. 

Meanwhile, the Republican party must figure out how to reconcile what is left of the moneyed Romney-Bush wing of the party and the energetic Tea Party-Trump wing.This reminds me of 1964 and several election cycles after that when a Goldwater conservative minority arose to challenge the Rockefeller moderate-liberal majority, eventually resulting in a conservative ideological and electoral victory largely due to Ronald Reagan’s attractiveness to middle America. 

That middle America is still there, or perhaps has reawakened. The GOP’s problem is that it doesn’t have a Ronald Reagan to unify the party and lead it at the national level. The party is still the stronger one at state and local levels so I wouldn’t bet against a Republican election night resurgence in 2022. The Democrat excesses may just hand it to them regardless of what the GOP does.

But do something the GOP must to communicate its message…especially without the Great Communicator at the top of the ticket.

Mark Franke, M.B.A., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.


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