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If Republicans Aspire to Being The New 'Blue Collar' Party, They Need to Deliver More Than Sound Bites

February 23, 2021

By Joe Rothstein

Republican Senator Marco Rubio attracted a ripple of attention a few weeks ago with a paper outlining what he sees as the Republican Party’s future—a political party dedicated to building a “pro-worker” economy that incentivizes “investment in America’s workforce.”

Rubio is not alone among Republicans who view Donald Trump’s support from blue collar workers as a realignment, much the same as the South realigned as a Republican stronghold after Democrats went all-in to end legal segregation. According to Rubio, now that Democrats are “led by radical left-wing activists and funded by wealthy elites in the media, Silicon Valley, and Wall Street,” the door is open for Republicans to become the true workers’ party.

But to actually move those votes to a new home in the Republican Party will require more than wishful thinking and we-love-you-more-than-they-do speeches. If one thing is certain about 2021 politics, it’s that most voters are in a show-me frame of mind.

Start with the pandemic recovery program President Biden and and Democrats are rapidly moving to approval. Without it, tens of millions of Americans who remain out of work or underemployed would be at risk of personal bankruptcy. Those who own homes would face foreclosure. Renters would face eviction. Small businesses everywhere would lose the only lifeline that has kept them afloat for a year. Literally millions of local, state and government workers would fall victim to savage budget cuts.

And congressional Republicans, possibly every one of them, may vote against that program. Not a good look for a party trying to position itself as the worker’s friend.

Next up on the congressional agenda likely will be a long-delayed measure to rebuild U.S. infrastructure, a need made more obvious and more urgent by the failure of Texas’ power grid. Leaders of every city and state and school district will weigh in supporting this program. It’s about decaying water and sewer systems, roads and bridges, internet connectivity and schools. It’s about moving the U.S. away from fossil fuel dependency. Even if Biden’s estimate of 10 million new jobs resulting from the program is 50% off the mark, that’s a lot of jobs, a lot of manufacturing, a lot of large and small business.

While the Covid-19 relief bill can become law without Republican support, unless Senate Democrats decide to kill the filibuster, at least 10 Republican senators would need to step up to the plate and vote to enact an infrastructure program. Would Rubio be one of them? Would any Republican be willing to cross the aisle? Or would Republicans as a party be okay with going into the 2022 election defending their opposition and inviting Democratic attacks on them as job-killers?

After the infrastructure battle, will come the fight to improve and extend the Affordable Care Act. Given the nightmare experience of Covid-19, will Republicans remain united in their opposition to the ACA? Without it, tens of millions of those who of have been infected would be at risk of losing health insurance due to pre-existing conditions. The pandemic has laid bare significant problems with the American health care system—-lack of facilities, high costs, shortages of health care workers, health deserts in rural areas. If Rubio wants the Republican Party to be the new home of working Americans, will he, and Ted Cruz and others who are preaching the realignment gospel show their love by supporting a more rational, inclusive, less expensive health care program?

And so on.

In poll after poll, strong majorities of Americans say they want more Covid relief, infrastructure repair, improvement in the health system, and more. Add in higher taxes on the wealthy, a rational immigration system, changes in our system of justice to add more justice. All of this will be on the congressional agenda this year and next. Just how “blue collar” is Rubio willing to be?

Republicans actually do have an opportunity to compete for working class America. A 50/50 Senate split means that Republican votes could make the difference between progress and gridlock. With Biden as president they have a White House that not only seeks out bi-partisanship but knows how to achieve it.

But with a Senate leader like Mitch McConnell who identifies himself as the “grim reaper” of Democratic party legislation, and a House leadership that has not even officially recognized Biden as the winner of the 2020 election, don’t expect collegial partnership from Republicans in framing or voting on the most important issues facing the country.

After a pandemic and years of neglect, the U.S., and particularly the vast majority of low and middle income Americans, needs a lot of help. The Democrats are on course to deliver that help. Rubio and friends seem more inclined to let them eat sound bites.

(Joe Rothstein is a veteran political strategist and author of the acclaimed political thrillers, “The Latina President and the Conspiracy to Destroy Her,” and “The Salvation Project.” He can be contacted at jrothstein@rothstein.net)



Joe Rothstein is editor of U.S. Politics Today. His career in politics spans 35 years, as a strategist and media producer in more than 200 campaigns for political office and for many political causes. He was a pioneer in professional political consulting and one of the founding members of the American Association of Political Consultants. During his career Mr. Rothstein has served as editor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Anchorage Daily News and adjunct professor at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management. He has a master's degree in journalism from UCLA.