A Big Tent No More
Trump’s not the only reason the GOP is coming apart.
To begin, I commend to readers this essay by my friend Jayvie Canovo on the future of the Republican Party. After you read it, come back and consider the following theory about how the GOP got here.
Starting in the 1990s, the rise of the tech sector, concomitant with the development of global supply chains, meant that American companies were often no longer made up of American workers in American factory towns, but rather had a smaller domestic worker footprint and a large, distributed international workforce. Multinational American companies have tended to resemble their European and Asian counterparts, with a global corporate monoculture rather than an identity linked to a single country. And even among American companies which remain distinctly American, productivity gains ensure that the workforce is small compared to the overall population.
Consider that Tesla, the world’s best car company, recently doubled its size to a mere 10,000 employees. By comparison, Ford, the most successful of America’s car companies, can claim 50,000 workers. For its part, GM continues to shrink its workforce. Moving outside the auto industry one finds dozens of American firms that simply no longer exist, like Zenith, or only survive as shadows of their former selves, like Motorola.
And those are just traditional manufacturers. We’ve seen an explosion of companies that provide services for the outsourcing market or software products for the tech industry. Leftist critic and tech pioneer Jaron Lanier has noted that Instagram, today’s approximation of Kodak, was valued at $1 billion, compared to Kodak’s peak of $28 billion, but had only 13 workers compared to Kodak’s peak of 140,000. As Lanier argues, the revolutions in tech and trade have created immense wealth and endless consumer choice, but little in the way of opportunities for American workers. Or to put it another way: We have more capital-J Jobs but not enough lowercase-j jobs.
Steve Jobs is the personification of the aforementioned trends, not just in his role as a brilliant innovator — a creative destructor — but also as someone who married cutthroat capitalist tendencies to liberal social values. (At least in public. In private, Jobs’ liberalism was more complicated.) Between these socially progressive entrepreneurs and New Democrats who lifted market-friendly policies wholesale from the GOP, business elites began a great political migration from the right, to the center, and finally, in the Obama years, to the left.
(Despite protestations on the right that Obama is a socialist, the president’s economic policies have been generally to the right of Democrats 30 years ago, and only slightly to the left of Bill Clinton. Recall also that the ACA, which is a modified form of Romneycare, is to the right of Hillary Clinton’s own failed health care plan.)
Now, we expect the entertainment and legal industries to favor the left, but the extent to which Wall Street also favors the left is one of the most important developments in the last decade. 2016 is arguably an outlier, but it’s telling that, according to OpenSecrets.org, Hillary Clinton has collected approximately $60 million in donations from Wall Street-related industries, yet took in only $30 million from lawyers and $20 million from the media. These days, conservative social values are only really reflected in small businesses or private companies, and they unsurprisingly make up most of Donald Trump’s donations.
To be sure, there are major industries that still favor Republicans, such as the chemical and energy sectors. Individual donors in the top income quintile also support the GOP, though not overwhelmingly so. And as long as presidential campaigns start in Iowa, agribusiness will continue to make huge donations to both parties. But the myth of “the wealthy” as a solidly Republican bloc is no longer rooted in truth. Democrats use it as a cudgel against Republicans, but more significantly, Republicans themselves believe that what’s good for Wall Street is good for Main Street.
This Randian notion of the “entrepreneur-as-hero,” which remains popular among Republicans, is problematic since fewer and fewer entrepreneurs now support the GOP for social reasons. (The case of Brendan Eich also suggests that many right-leaning CEOs will now self-censor to avoid repercussions.) Moreover, given that immigrants are more likely to be entrepreneurs than native-born Americans, Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric is working at cross purposes. A party cannot embrace entrepreneurship and keep immigrants out at the same time.
Is it possible for Republicans to win back Wall Street? That may actually depend on how far a Clinton presidency — and let’s be real here, she’s going to win — is to the left of the Obama presidency and the DLC policies of her husband. A Clinton presidency that apes Bernie Sanders and abandons free trade would ruffle the feathers of many center-left corporate donors. That said, the more important question is whether Republicans, as a socially conservative party, can still build a successful coalition with business interests that have grown downright hostile to social conservatism, and with a Republican electorate that has grown equally hostile to free trade.
In closing, the Trump campaign has provided a moment of clarity for Republicans, not simply because the party needs to do soul-searching about the racists and radicals in their midst, and not just because social conservative leaders have found in Trump a Caesar worth rendering unto, but also because this election cycle makes it painfully obvious that the GOP, as it stands, is a big tent no more.