Ross Douthat’s idea of a Rubio–Kasich alliance to block Trump is intriguing because it clarifies the conflict within the GOP. Trump does better with working-class voters from across the GOP’s ideological spectrum and with the most disaffected conservatives. Based on the South Carolina exit polls, Rubio does better with more-optimistic, upper-middle-class conservatives. John Kasich (under the guidance of his advisor John Weaver) is running as the candidate of upper-middle-class Republican liberals and moderates.
If you could unite the two wings of the (relatively satisfied) upper-middle-class GOP and Rubio could pick off some social conservatives who recognize that Trump is a complete fraud on the social issues, you might have a path to the nomination. Relatively few people vote in primaries. A coalition built around a core of small-business owners and salaried professionals might well be a able to beat a coalition whose core is made up of the white, working-class disaffected.
That still leaves you with a party that is broken in two (at least). On the one side you have people who think that America is doing pretty well (other than the part about Obama in the White House) and who think that America’s responsible elites (the ones in the business community — not the kooks on campus) deserve more deference in solving the country’s problems. On the other side, you have people for whom America is not working nearly as well. They have less-stable jobs, less-stable families, and lousy future prospects, and they (correctly) sense that America’s elites would prefer to ignore them.
You can almost see an outline of how the institutional Republican party, business lobbies, and political consultants hope to heal this breach. The victorious upper-middle-class/business-lobby coalition gets priority in policy, while the rest get some identity-politics gestures and (to use Douthat’s term from an earlier essay) table scraps.
The first group gets “comprehensive immigration reform” and expanded guest-worker programs in order to replace loser American workers who “can’t cut it.” How do I know that is what they would do? Because that is what they already do.
The second group would get stories about how Marco Rubio’s father was a bartender and/or how Kasich’s dad was a mailman, and how they understand about your feelings of frustration, and how you should now be optimistic because it is morning in America again all day, every day.
This won’t work in the long run (and maybe not even the short run), because this approach to identity politics is too crude. It is like the Republican elite sees people who aren’t in their group as humanoids with at most one personality trait and, if you can spoof that trait, you can get their support.
The Republican establishment sees a group whose vote they aren’t getting and throw some identity politics at the problem. Are you losing young voters? Find a young candidate. New generation. Grew up listening to gansta rap. The kids love that sort of thing. That is why young voters are flocking to the forty-four year old Marco Rubio and spurning the seventy-four year old Bernie Sanders. Oh wait . . . that isn’t how it is working out at all. Maybe people outside the Republican-establishment bubble are actual human beings with values, and interests, and priorities.
Reagan was an old guy who did very well with young voters. That is because he listened to the people whom he wanted to persuade. The Republican establishment that still hopes to make Rubio the nominee would do well to imitate Reagan’s example. That would mean acting as brokers between voting blocs that have partially overlapping interests rather than just acting as the agents of business owners and private-sector managers. I’m not sure they are even capable of thinking of out-groups as anything but enemies to be defeated or marks to be taken down. And then they wonder about why they are so despised.