In Lead, NYT Finds Trump Rise Good for Relegating Reagan Cuts to Trash

In Saturday’s lead New York Times story, reporter Jackie Calmes glimpsed a silver lining in the rise of Donald Trump, as a challenge to the Republican party's myopic focus on “business and the privileged,” that could relegate Reagan's "outmoded" ideas of tax cuts to the dustbin of history.Here's the full deck of headlines: “As Trump Rises, G.O.P. Faces Push On Its Economics – Working-Class Appeal – Calling for the Party to Focus on Workers It Has Neglected.” Calmes used the prime piece of media real estate to aggressively push the idea of conservative “reformocons” who are against tax cuts – a hallmark of conservative ideology.

Calmes, a former White House reporter, has proven herself a reliable Democratic sympathizer, wondering earlier this year why the citizens of Elkhart, Indiana weren’t more grateful to him for saving their town’s economy. In 2015 she devoted 16,000 words to the corrosive effects of conservative talk radio, in a report written on sabbatical at Harvard.

The lead paragraphs to her lead story Saturday could have been plucked from Democratic talking points.

By riding his appeal among working-class whites to the top of the Republican Party, Donald J. Trump has emboldened conservative thinkers to press their party of business and the privileged to reshape its economic canon to more directly benefit poorer workers it has often taken for granted.

The policy prescriptions of these so-called reform conservatives, or “reformocons,” would not only break with some longtime Republican orthodoxy -- disavowing tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the rich, for example -- they would also counter more recent stances by Mr. Trump on trade and immigration.

And because of a lack of policy specifics in Mr. Trump’s personality-centered campaign, reform conservatives see an opening through which to push their prescriptions.

Part of that reform: Chucking President Reagan’s free-market ideals (still taking the blame for "wealth inequality and stagnant wages" 30 years later) into the dustbin of history.

Whether Mr. Trump prevails or the party is left to rebuild from defeat, these conservatives in think tanks, advocacy groups and the news media -- and a few in political office -- will be pressing for a new agenda: to update the Reagan-era playbook with an eye to working-class voters without a college education who form the Republican base. Ronald Reagan’s notions that policies that benefit the rich and big business lift all incomes now appear outmoded in an era of rising wealth inequality and stagnant wages.

Calmes found “some common ideas suggest their proposed road map for the party,” every one of which was a concession to big government, like these three:

Reject additional tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 a year, but expand breaks for low- and middle-income workers through tax credits for children, the earned-income tax credit or a new wage subsidy using tax dollars to bring low wages toward the local median level.

....

Rule out fully privatizing Social Security and Medicare, and reassure workers they will be exempt from cost-cutting.

Acknowledge that universal health care is here to stay, but push for market-oriented changes.

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Led by younger conservatives, the push for new approaches began in the past decade, as big spending and military interventions by the Bush administration and a Republican-controlled Congress vexed many in the party. Capturing the ferment was a 2008 book, “Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream,” by Mr. Salam and Ross Douthat, who is now a columnist for The New York Times.

....

Proponents of a new conservative agenda have critics in both parties. Democrats dismiss their ideas as repackaging a familiar right-wing agenda. Some Republicans and conservative media figures like Rush Limbaugh condemn their cause as a return of moderate Republicanism or a capitulation to liberalism.

There was some Thomas Frank-style condescension toward lower-income citizens who stubbornly fail to vote the way they are supposed to:

Democrats have long charged that lower-income white Americans who vote heavily Republican do so against their economic interests. A new poll for The Wall Street Journal and NBC News had Hillary Clinton ahead over all but trailing Mr. Trump by 13 percentage points among whites without a college education and by 21 points among men in that group. Past polls had her even further behind with those working-class voters, however.

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For all of Mr. Trump’s outreach to working-class whites, Robert VerBruggen, the managing editor of The American Conservative, said the party platform that emerged from the Republican convention was further evidence of the gap between the party’s support from white blue-collar workers and its agenda that all but ignores them.

....

Oren Cass, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the former domestic policy director for Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, even suggested that Republicans look for ways to harness labor unions for constructive worker-management relationships. He also predicted more openness among conservatives to raising taxes when justified.

Clay Waters
Clay Waters
Clay Waters was director of Times Watch, a former project of the Media Research Center.