Mr. President: Trump’s Voters Are Changing Reagan’s Terms of Debate

A lot of people are talking about this comment from Barack Obama on the Democratic primary.

GLENN THRUSH: I mean, when you watch this, what do you — do you see any elements of what you were able to accomplish in what Sanders is doing?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, there’s no doubt that Bernie has tapped into a running thread in Democratic politics that says: Why are we still constrained by the terms of the debate that were set by Ronald Reagan 30 years ago? You know, why is it that we should be scared to challenge conventional wisdom and talk bluntly about inequality and, you know, be full-throated in our progressivism? And, you know, that has an appeal and I understand that.

I think that what Hillary presents is a recognition that translating values into governance and delivering the goods is ultimately the job of politics, making a real-life difference to people in their day-to-day lives. I don’t want to exaggerate those differences, though, because Hillary is really idealistic and progressive. You’d have to be to be in, you know, the position she’s in now, having fought all the battles she’s fought and, you know, taken so many, you know, slings and arrows from the other side. And Bernie, you know, is somebody who was a senator and served on the Veterans’ Committee and got bills done. And so the—

For example, Greg Sargent argues this represents Obama siding with Hillary’s more “realistic” approach to policy.

Obama is basically trying to pour cold water on the loftiness of Sanders’ argument, by nodding to the “appeal” of promising another transformative moment, while suggesting that Clinton’s more constrained view of what can be “delivered” is more realistic, and that this is actually an attribute that recommends her for the presidency.

I’m struck, though, by Obama’s description of what makes Hillary more “realistic:” the terms of debate that Reagan set 35 years ago.

He’s making that argument, of course, in a year where Reagan’s party has utterly failed to sell its voters on any of the insider candidates for the president: especially not the son of Reagan’s Vice President. This is a year when what once got called Reagan Democrats are supporting a loudly racist protectionist, Donald Trump.

A lot of people are ignoring this fact, and failing to consider what it means for this election and potentially even for “reality” in its aftermath. Indeed, a lot of Republicans are rationalizing supporting Trump over Ted Cruz based on their claim that Trump doesn’t have any ideology, ignoring that Trump espouses economic views that largely conflict with the neoliberal doctrine of both mainstream Republicans and Democrats.

The growing likelihood that Trump will win the nomination and run on his protectionist policies won’t change what incumbents get reelected in the House — and therefore the likelihood that, if a Democrat does win, any legislative agenda will be bottled up in the Congress. But it will change what the Republican party claims to support, and the expectations its voters have of it.

Indeed, one of the only times anyone in this race was able to get Trump to change his public stance came when Bernie Sanders called him on his claim that wages were too low in this country.

Donald Trump, billionaire Republican presidential frontrunner, has changed his mind about wages: Americans aren’t earning enough. He’s also not keen on Wall Street. The shift has Trump on a collision course with Democrat Bernie Sanders – while oddly agreeing with many of his points.

“Wages in are [sic] country are too low, good jobs are too few, and people have lost faith in our leaders. We need smart and strong leadership now!” Trump tweeted on Monday.

[snip]

“[T]axes too high, wages too high, we’re not going to be able to compete against the world. I hate to say it, but we have to leave [the minimum wage] the way it is,” Trump said at the time. “People have to go out, they have to work really hard and have to get into that upper stratum. But we cannot do this if we are going to compete with the rest of the world. We just can’t do it.”

Sanders, a senator from Vermont and self-described socialist, used those comments to criticize Trump while appearing on CBS Face the Nation on Sunday.

“This is a guy who does not want to raise minimum wage,” he said of Trump. “In fact, he has said that wages in America are too high.”

Trump lashed back at Sanders, tweeting: “[Bernie Sanders]–who blew his campaign when he gave Hillary a pass on her e-mail crime, said that I feel wages in America are too high. Lie!”

There’s a reason Bernie’s attack worked and the feeble attacks launched thus far at Trump from the right have not: because Trump needs to promise the non-college educated white voters who are the key to his popularity that he will improve their lives, and while they may not be college educated they’re not so dumb as to believe they need a pay cut.

Of course, the same dynamic that has made Trump such a strong candidate also drives the willingness of voters to support a socialist. Bernie just offers a different solution to the economic woes that 35 years of cuts have brought.

A substantial and very motivated part of the electorate, on both the right and left, is telling pollsters Reagan’s rules have failed. Particularly in the face of a Trump candidacy, Democrats will have to decide whether they want to use that as an opportunity to free themselves of those terms of debate, or take ownership of them moving forward.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

46 replies
  1. orionATL says:

    i’m puzzled by the implication of this:

    ” This is a year when what once got called Reagan Democrats are supporting a loudly racist protectionist, Donald Trump.c

    it seems to imply reagan democrats were not racially motivated. but racial animosity among former dem voters in northern states (need we add southern :) ) was the heart of the reagan “revolution” in politics, a revolution conceived by nixon and activated in reagan’s first speech of the presidential campaign in philadelphia, miss.

  2. bloopie2 says:

    Sorry, but I’m too ignorant to understand this post. I don’t know, off the top of my head, what were the “Reagan terms of debate” 30 years ago; I wasn’t following politics closely enough back then. If anyone pointx me to a primer on said “terms of debate”, I will read same. Thanks.

  3. galljdaj says:

    Terms of the ‘debate’ were an actor playing a president while being an ex union president that was made to pay scale wages to the workers he was ‘leading’, and about hate regarding ‘union workers’. He wanted clogs that did what they were told antake only what he was willing to pay, i.e., none of the american pie!

  4. orionATL says:

    the president is quoted: “Why are we still constrained by the terms of the debate that were set by Ronald Reagan 30 years ago?…”

    what were those constraints? i wasn’t aware of any constraints reagan put on democrats’ ideas or their proper expression.

  5. orionATL says:

    trump’s supporters by age sex and income:

    http://www.latimes.com/visuals/graphics/la-g-anatomy-of-trump-supporters-20151208-htmlstory.html

    “…  because Trump needs to promise the non-college educated white voters who are the key to his popularity that he will improve their lives, and while they may not be college educated they’re not so dumb as to believe they need a pay cut… ”

    young, teeshirt wearing men may not be where trumpsv support is.

    personally, i think he just inherited the tea party dissidents.

    1/3 are over 65 yrs. 60% are over 45.

    25% make over 50k/yr and another 25 make over 100k/yr.

    about 1/3 are white – say what!!!

    personally, i am most curious about the 21% that are” other” ethnicity.

  6. emptywheel says:

    Reagan is the guy who really rolled back social programs, best embodied by his attack on “welfare queens.” It is true that he got working class whites to buy into it by mobilizing racism and the portrayal of taxes as the problem. One of the assumptions among Hillary supporters is that Bernie’s call for new taxes on the middle class (but especially on the rich) will doom him politically. But for something like health care (note, not insurance, which is what Hillary is peddling), they appear willing to, not least because individuals pay so much for health insurance now, without necessarily getting care.

    So the question is: is government bad, or can it, properly funded, be a source of benefit?

     

    • orionATL says:

      reagan most assuredly did not get dem voters to “buy into” racism. he exploited their existing racism at every turn; that’s what politicians do. that’s what the campaign theme “welfare queens driving cadillacs” was all about.

      from the “reagan democrats” entry in wikipedia:
      .

      [… The work of Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg is a classic study of Reagan Democrats. Greenberg analyzed white ethnic voters (largely unionized auto workers) in Macomb County, Michigan, just north of Detroit. The county voted 63 percent for John F. Kennedy in 1960, but 66 percent for Reagan in 1980. He concluded that “Reagan Democrats” no longer saw the Democratic party as champions of their working class aspirations, but instead saw them as working primarily for the benefit of others: the very poor, feminists, the unemployed, African Americans, Latinos, and other groups. In addition, Reagan Democrats enjoyed gains during the period of economic prosperity that coincided with the Reagan administration following the “malaise” of the Carter administration. They also supported Reagan’s strong stance on national security and opposed the 1980s Democratic Party on such issues as pornography, crime, and high taxes.[2]

      Greenberg periodically revisited the voters of Macomb County as a barometer of public opinion until he conducted a 2008 exit poll that found “nearly 60 percent” of Macomb County voters were “‘comfortable’ with Mr. Obama,” drawing the conclusion that Macomb County had “become normal and uninteresting” and “illustrates America’s evolving relationship with race.” As such, Greenberg stated in an op-ed for the New York Times that, “I’m finished with the Reagan Democrats of Macomb County in suburban Detroit after making a career of spotlighting their middle-class anger and frustrations about race and Democratic politicians.”[3] Obama ultimately won Macomb County by a comfortable 53-45% margin that year.[4]…]

      to re-emphasize with a subquote:

      “… He concluded that “Reagan Democrats” no longer saw the Democratic party as champions of their working class aspirations, but instead saw them as working primarily for the benefit of others: the very poor, feminists, the unemployed, African Americans, Latinos, and other groups. … They also supported Reagan’s strong stance on national security and opposed the 1980s Democratic Party on such issues as pornography, crime, and high taxes.[2]… ”

      these were conservative union ethnic voters just waiting for a champion to lead them out of their democratic bondage. ronald reagan was that champion.

      sound familiar?

  7. bevin says:

    The constraints were self imposed, enthusiastically too, by Clinton and the DLC.
    By accepting the “necessity ” of going along with Reagan’s neo-liberalism the DLC bought into a share of the Financiers’ pie.
    Because they could trade in their credibility with Union members, African Americans and others who had resisted Reagan’s appeal, while simultaneously being the ‘lesser evil’ on election day, they had a cunning electoral strategy to which the Republicans (whose clothes the Democrats and stolen and put on) could only respond by moving further to the right.

    Personally, I find this post very illuminating, one of the shrewdest assessments of the significance of Sanders that I have seen.
    By the way concerning authoritarianism, in Religion and The Rise of Capitalism, RH Tawney suggested that in every human soul “there is an authoritarian and a fanatic for liberty.” He was right and that tension, between the desire to be told what to do and the instinct to do what we please, seems to me to lie, unresolved, at the heart of Trump’s support. It is simplistic to call him fascistic-in many ways he is less of a fascist than his opponents among the Repubs and Clinton. Unfortunately there is a nasty intellectual tradition in the US-going back to the earliest days of the Republic- which insists that anyone putting forward a popular programme is dangerous, whereas those calling for business as usual (only worse) because they are afraid to offend the “deep state” are moderates standing between the smug elites and the guillotine.

    • orionATL says:

      bevin, this is just silly:

      “… Because they could trade in their credibility with Union members, African Americans and others who had resisted Reagan’s appeal, while simultaneously being the ‘lesser evil’ on election day, they had a cunning electoral strategy to which the Republicans (whose clothes the Democrats and stolen and put on) could only respond by moving further to the right… ”

      in the first place, all politicians everywhere trade promises and platform positions for votes, that includes senator sanders in 2015-6.

      in the second place, and more importantly for our time, democrats have not been a cunning lesser evil forcing republicans to the right. republicans own the national political agenda. they don’t get pushed to the right by clever democratic party machinations, they chose where they wish to go and that has been further to the right.

      the problem the democratic party has it is terrified to fight back and to openly attack republican positions on education, climate, health, religious dominance, abortion and contraception, health, job security, gov and private surveillance, ethnic targeting, domestic gun violence, war mongering, and handicapping claptrap about taxes and national debt.

      • bevin says:

        “.. the democratic party (has it) is terrified to fight back and to openly attack republican positions ”

        It shares most of those positions, so why should it be terrified? Look at Clinton’s backers and her policies- warmongering and Wall St mongering. Look at Rahm Emanuel in Chicago: he is as mainstream in the DLC as you will find and look at his record. He’s not scared of Republicans he’s scared of the possible return of democrats. Look at Obama: was it fear of the Republicans that prompted him to his horrific foreign policies? Was it fear that kept him on the sidelines, looking the other way when Wisconsin was crushing the unions?
        These people aren’t afraid of Republicans. They are the Republicans.

        • orionATL says:

          playing with words (democrats are republicans) is not analysis. it does need provide useful information.

  8. JohnT says:

    .
    Saw a ‘shopped’ picture on teh twitter machine a week or two ago, that showed Sanders as Obi Wan Kenobi and HRC as Vader in the light saber duel. And the caption read something like Sanders as Obi Wan saying, ‘The more you attack me the stronger I become’
    .
    And that’s entirely true. What Hillary, and the rest of the Dem establishment don’t seem to understand is, what Sanders is saying, and what he will do, once in office is just what most voters want
    .

    • lefty665 says:

      Sanders is a New Deal dem, a very successful agenda for the American people that the Democratic Party has abandoned. What’s scary is that if Trump picks it up to appeal to his supporters, he could ride it into office.
      .
      Clinton’s policy is right wing, DLC, more concentration of wealth with the rich, less for everyone else, Repub crap. Then there’s her strong suit, Neocon foreign policy. *Snark*
      .
      Hillary’s indictment for converting very sensitive material to her own insecure, compromised server lurks. Charges for collusion as Sec State to enrich her foundation and family are in the works too. That’s why Biden is salivating. But, like the other two (and you and me orion), he’s too old too. So maybe it’s just drool.

      • P J Evans says:

        You mean, instead of keeping her emails on the insecure State Department systems?
        The ‘unsecure private server’ is, AFAIK, a lie.

        • lefty665 says:

          If she was putting classified materials on the unsecured State system instead of the secure systems it would be every bit as much a crime.
          .
          “The ‘unsecure private server’ is, AFAIK, a lie.” You really have not been paying attention. Is that intentional?

      • orionATL says:

        “Clinton’s policy is right wing, DLC, more concentration of wealth with the rich, less for everyone else, Repub crap. Then there’s her strong suit, Neocon foreign policy. *Snark*”

        you would not get that impression from reading her issues statement i posted. it sounds almost humane.

        • lefty665 says:

          Yeah, carefully crafted that way to take in the gullible, but it won’t last past the primaries.
          .
          As a pragmatic, work across the aisle kind of practical wonder worker, she believes in nothing but her own advancement. Everything is fodder to be sold out to make a deal, in campaign speak “tack towards the middle in the general” or more bluntly “You’re not dumb enough to really believe that shit are you? All I wanted to do was beat Bernie.”
          .
          As the self proclaimed successor to BO what does experience teach us could possibly go wrong? We had the ’08 campaign of “Change We Can Believe In” that some of us worked hard to elect. By Thanksgiving that year that had morphed into “More of the Same”, and 8 years later we’re still stuck there.
          .
          From Krugman in his more sensible days, ca ’03. “Compromise with evil yields only the appearance of progress. Evil takes what you give it then comes back for more.” The history and epitaph of the Obama Administration, and the promise of Clinton II. Sanders may not achieve his dreams with a hostile Congress, but he will not sell us further down the river. We expected more from BO because we elected veto proof majorities right along with him. Change and the mechanism and the mandate to achieve it. Poof, gone in a flash. Never again.

          • orionATL says:

            lefty writes:

            “… As the self proclaimed successor to BO what does experience teach us could possibly go wrong? We had the ’08 campaign of “Change We Can Believe In” that some of us worked hard to elect. By Thanksgiving that year that had morphed into “More of the Same”, and 8 years later we’re still stuck there…”

            you really don’t understand what is going on, lefty.

            let me put it to you straight:

            the 2016 progressive successor to obama is bernie sanders. straight line of succession.
            .
            yes, senator sanders is senator obama’s successor in the “progressive” pantheon. you and every other well-intentioned fool who thinks you’ve got a new deal in sanders are self-made suckers.

            i say “self-made suckers” because neither obama nor sanders are responsible for what their supporters choose to believe of these men’s pie-in-the-sky policy positions. obama, for whom you worked so hard, had no intention of keeping his promises. sanders may, but in 2016 he doesn’t have a chinaman’s chance of accomplishing much of what he promises voters, even assuming he has the political skills and clout which i consider a huge assumption.

            it is especially perverse that you transfer onto clinton of all people, your anger at having let yourself be suckered into worshipping obama, and now sanders. it was obama you may recall who outmaneuvered clinton in the primaries and in the dnc to claim a nomination for a job for which he was entirely unqualified.

      • orionATL says:

        again..

        “Clinton’s policy is right wing, DLC, more concentration of wealth with the rich, less for everyone else, Repub crap. Then there’s her strong suit, Neocon foreign policy. *Snark*”

        specifically,

        “then there’s her strong suit, neocon foreign policy”

        what is clinton’s foreign policy and what makes it neocon?
        .
        clinton does not fit with paul wolowitz, william kristol, or richard pearle, et al. not even remotely.

        • lefty665 says:

          “clinton does not fit with paul wolowitz, william kristol, or richard pearle, et al. not even remotely.” Like PJ you apparently haven’t been paying attention. I don’t care if you agree with my political choices, but I do care that there’s some foundation in reality in your beliefs.

          • orionATL says:

            lefty, your resonse is pure, dodging, bravura bullshit.

            again –

            what is the “clinton neocon foreign policy” you refer to? specifically.
            .

            how is clinton a neocon? she does not fit with known neocons..

            blustery dodging does not help your cause.
            .

            as for the secutity of servers issue, the state dept and dod servers have been repeatedly breached. you know that very well, don’t you?

            • bmaz says:

              Please stop. This is not Daily Kos circa 2008. There are excellent messages from both candidates viable for the Democrats. And there are broader political messages beyond that.
              .
              But, let this blog not be a vehicle for internecine warfare in the comment section on any posts that do not specifically engender the same. This one certainly did not.

              • orionATL says:

                bmaz –

                kiss my ass, you hypocrite.

                you are not going to shut me up.

                you deliver that same message to every commenter here, you biased, blowhard, and i’ll sign the pledge after everyone else has.

                my comments here are more anytical and thoughtful than any one of your twitterings has been, twit.

                by the way weren’t you the fool blazing away about college kids destroying the first amendment at missouri when all they were doing was learning how politics works.

                bmaz, lawyer, opportunistic first amendment hypocrite!

                • orionATL says:

                  it’s the first amendment, bmaz.

                  remember?

                  the one you like to swoon over in public view.

                  but let me guess,

                  you have a special reservation for civility, right?

            • lefty665 says:

              “what is the “clinton neocon foreign policy” you refer to? specifically.” You’re just playing dumb right? Start with her Iraq war vote. As Sec State try Afghanistan and the “surge” there, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Iran, Israel for starters. She promoted Kagan’s wife, Victoria Nuland , at State who bragged about spending $5 Billion to overthrow the elected government of Ukraine and ally us with neo nazis there. Kagan, Kristol and others have pronounced their comfort with her. Neocons, liberal interventionists and R2Pers are birds of a feather and have instigated and perpetuated the foreign policy disasters that have dominated this millennium. Have you not been paying any attention?
              .
              “the state dept and dod servers have been repeatedly breached. you know that very well, don’t you?” I know it’s a subtle distinction for you, but there are levels of email. None are trouble free, but the notorious ones have been lower level. The secure communications systems that handle very highly classified and compartmentalized traffic are isolated from each other and from the web. Moving classified information from them to more easily compromised lower level systems whether government or private like the one in Hillary’s basement is cumbersome and explicitly violates the law. At this point more than a thousand emails containing classified information have been found on Hillary’s server along with her specific instructions to her staff to remove classification headers and put traffic on her insecure system. The criminality would have been the same had she ordered the communications stripped of classification markings and put on a low level government system.
              .
              Using her own server was an attempt to obstruct FOIA, that is a separate offense. While preventing US citizens from knowing what our government was doing she enabled the Chinese, Russians, Israelis, and anyone else with even a half witting intelligence service to access both routine and classified information.

  9. Ed Walker says:

    NYT today front page, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/25/us/politics/hillary-clinton-bernie-sanders-democratic-party-iowa-new-hampshire.html:

    Mr. Sanders, a New Deal-style liberal from Vermont, last week became the party’s first top-tier candidate since the 1980s to propose broad-based tax increases. He argues that only muscular government action — Wall Street regulations, public works jobs, Medicare for all — will topple America’s “rigged” economy.

    The obligatory “calls himself a social democrat” is way down into the story. This is a reasonable bit of coverage.

    • bevin says:

      It’s high time the media started inserting an obligatory ” a self described progressive” in Hillary articles.

  10. lefty665 says:

    Hi Bmaz, Sorry, I did not see your appeal until after I posted last time.
    .
    EW’s post does get us right down into the issues and candidates positions, as illustrated by the quotes from the president. But, we can have a civil discussion. I apologize for my contribution to incivility.
    .
    EW addressed a very real fear that Trump will commander traditional New Deal Democratic values that will appeal to his supporters every bit as much as they did to the country in ’32.
    .
    My fear is that incrementalism abandons those values, that it is what has gotten us into this mess, and that more of less will just make it worse. It is hard to have a discussion about that without raising emotions.

  11. bmaz says:

    Hey, Orion, stop. Think. Is this where you want to make your stand?
    .
    Seriously? After all these years? You now want to dominate our comments sections with your own tripe, and object when you get called out on it?
    .
    Don’t humor yourself. And the next time I see run on stupid full links from you in one of your run on serial margin buster link posts, I will not reformat it all for you, I will simply bounce it, which is so much easier for everyone.
    .
    Like I said to another commenter, on another post, don’t be a dick or else you will be gone. I do not say this easily, because you have been around a long time (in fact I personally implored you to follow us, and helped you do so, when we went from TNH to Emptywheel at FDL.) But I have not forgotten, do you want to make your last stand here, and in this dubious way?
    .
    I have always thought better of you. But if this is how you want it to be, okay.
    .
    It is all up to you.

  12. orionATL says:

    no, bmaz. it’s up to you.

    i make a lot of comments here. i worry a LOT about the effects of that, but then no one else seems that interested.

    if you dont want to free up commments of mine that have quotes that belong together, thats your choice. my choice is not to waste my time making them.

    you know god damned good and well just where in the middle of this post, you intervened. and since you know that, then you know the history of abusing secretary clinton’s reputation.

    now back to first amendment and your civility exceptions to same.

  13. bmaz says:

    Hi there Orion. Listen, I have gone out of my way to tell another commenter here to not be a trolling and spamming jerk. Let me expand that to you.
    .
    I personally asked you to suffer the vagaries of the transition from TNH to FDL to the current Emptywheel site, when you did not want to deal with it, and helped you throughout it. That was years ago. You want to be a jerk and blow all the years of good will here away? I hope not.

  14. Avattoir says:

    Who’s the one candidate who could defeat Cruz, top Trump, AND maybe win the general election?

    Wilfred Brimley, from the movie Cocoon: “We’ll never be sick, we won’t get any older, and we won’t ever die”.

  15. optn says:

    Thank God other people are seeing this!

    Sanders/Trump splits the bipartisan NeoLiberal consensus inside the parties.

    Tried to post observations along these line months ago at Krugman’s blog but they wouldn’t put them up.

    Then stories started to appear on the front page and op/ed sections-later they started putting up posts.

    So it really does seem the Establishment’s out of touch kinda reminds me of 1980.

    What’s funny is more people like me are Sanders or Trump but NEVER Clinton voters to split the NeoLiberal concensus and “A substantial and very motivated part of the electorate, on both the right and left, is telling pollsters Reagan’s rules have failed.” and are going to vote on that.

    What people don’t get is Trump has a message of “I’m for YOU” in the general election-save SS, Universal Health Care, etc-may put him in the White House.

    It’s very appealing to Reagan Democrats who listen to Trump’s goals.

    At the same time Trump seems to have split the Pat Buchanan Conservative/Libertarian Reagan Coalition that some Harvard prof. claims is the Republican key to the WH since Reagan.

    The Scott Horton section of the Libertarians are screaming Trumps a Facist.

    So either way if Trump wins/loses it seems he will have the most significant lasting impact on Americas future course.

    Trump losing may end the remnants of the Reagan Coalition.

    Of course some of us remember the Democrat Donald Trump of New York in the 1980’s…..and if I recall correctly Trump was to the left of where Hillary Clinton is now.

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