At the 2020 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) claimed that the Republican and Democratic Party had switched sides and voters. The Democrats used to be the party of the working people, whereas Republicans were perceived to be the party of the rich and powerful. With the election of President Donald Trump in 2016, that all changed. Is Cruz correct?
The Rich and Powerful
At first glance, this claim sounds hyperbolic. The Democrats have long been perceived as touting the plight of minorities and disenfranchised groups, while Republicans have been the party of lower taxes and less government. Nevertheless, consider the nation’s wealthiest and most influential cultural elite: Hollywood. Who do they support? Once he came out as a conservative, author and screenwriter Andrew Klavan saw all his Hollywood commissions dry up overnight. It is, of course, a progressive stronghold.
What about the educated elites? Dr. Jonathan Haidt, Professor of Ethical Leadership New York University’s Stern School of Business, says that in the last few decades, academia has become a leftist monoculture.
In 1980, economist Milton Friedman released the book Free to Choose and a corresponding PBS 10-episode television series. He popularized the ideas of free trade and globalization. In Europe, labor unions were not pleased. They argued for protective tariffs, and a ban on immigration to protect the national wage level.
As late as in 2016, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) echoed the sentiment of European labor unions when he rebuked open borders as a “Koch brothers proposal.”
Although a relaxation of trade barriers started as an idea on the political right, by the mid-1990s, the left had adopted these ideas and made them their own. In the U.K., it was promoted as New Labour under the leadership of Prime Minister Tony Blair. In America, President Bill Clinton did the same under the banner of the Democrats. In Europe, the E.U. was established as a political union based on the Maastricht treaty of 1993. Among the primary architects of unions was the French President François Mitterrand, who was a socialist.
Slowly, globalism – the creation of transnational power structures that reduced or abolished the sovereignty of the nation-state – replaced Friedman’s globalization. Despite Sanders’ misgivings about open borders, it was mainly a project of the center-left.
When Trump arrived on the scene in 2016, the Republican party was still on board with the globalization project – with the Koch brothers as a heavy influence. With slogans like “build the wall” and “drain the swamp,” Trump adopted many of the same positions held by the labor unions of the 1990s. There is broad agreement that he won because he was able to turn rust belt Democrats into Republican voters in droves.
Although the media portrays Trump as a xenophobe, few are aware that he is echoing traditional trade union talking points, albeit within a conservative framework. At CPAC, the president said that “regulation is stealth taxation, especially on the poor.” He emphasized how his policies of deregulation, in combination with tariffs on China, had spurred job creation for the working class. Similarly, Trump justifies his proposed moratorium on immigration with his desire to raise American wages, especially for the disenfranchised.
Cruz is, therefore, mostly correct that Trump has reinvented the Republican party into a more conservative, liberty-oriented version of a labor party. The election in 2020 will give us an indication of whether the change is an anomaly or permanent.
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