The GOP’s Shrinking Base

The white working-class group that Romney and his VP pick are courting isn't what it used to be.

Except that Ryan actually has far more in common with George W. Bush and Willard Romney than he does with the unemployed steelworkers in Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Paul Ryan comes from a storied family, with wealth and history to boot. His great-grandfather started a hugely successful company, Ryan Inc., in 1884, which is now a national construction firm, with projects like the original development of O’Hare Airport and numerous golf courses under its belt. The company’s website boast contracts of up to $50 million and is still family-owned.

Ryan’s father became a lawyer instead of joining the family firm, and Ryan himself decided to study economics at Miami University in Ohio, but he has spent most of his life in politics. Indeed, his only private-sector experience was working as a “marketing consultant” for a brief time at the family company, a move that the New Yorker referred to as “résumé padding.”

Of course, Ryan’s great-grandfather is a positive example of successful American enterprise, but the broader truth reveals the hypocrisy inherent in Republican policies — supported by both Romney and Ryan — that cripple the working class.

Appealing to the White Working Class

At the heart of today’s Republican ideology is a commitment to protecting the interests of the wealthy. But strangely, its core voting base consists of uneducated, working-class citizens — and poor whites in particular. For decades, since Barry Goldwater’s failed 1964 campaign and subsequent implementation of Nixon’s Southern strategy, the GOP has enjoyed a bastion of working-class white voters in the same way that African Americans became stalwart Democrats.

The irony is that while liberals have supported an agenda of civil rights — which naturally appealed to black voters — Republicans have chosen a deductive strategy, using divisive, racially infused campaigns that demonize minorities as the source of societal ills and frame conservative, faith-based principles as an answer. Relying on cultural divides, Republicans have managed to secure the loyalty of poor whites even though conservatives push economic policies — like sending manufacturing jobs offshore — that hurt the very people who are now their base.