WASHINGTON — Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions says the GOP should wave goodbye to Wall Street, and bet on support from middle-class voters, including tens of millions of people earning $30,000 to $50,000.
“The elites are failing America, they’re failing the people of America. … My party, the Republican Party, needs to sever itself from the elite consensus, we need to break from it,” he told a celebration for fifth anniversary of the Tea Party Patriots group, held Thursday evening in Washington, D.C.
“We can tell Wall Street, ‘We love you’ … but we’re going to be representing Americans by the millions,” he told the audience.
The populist shift is needed, Sessions said, because Republican candidates and their consultants have failed to persuade low-income swing voters that GOP leaders care about them.
“These workers, these Americans, these citizens, are not happy with President [Barack] Obama — they don’t want to be on food stamps. … That’s a vote we can get back,” he said.
The speech marks another step by Sessions to promote his populist reform agenda to the GOP’s base and business-friendly leadership.
But it’s not clear how far Sessions can take his reform message.
He’s made few steps so far to build a national following or recruit a team to help him participate in the 2016 Republican primaries.
His disavowal of Wall Street will close donors’ checkbooks, as will his skeptical comments on trade. But he’s unlikely to gain donations from working-class people, nor from the wealthy but cautious professionals who fear progressives’ scorn.
His base is in Alabama, and his soft-spoken style won’t help him win fans in the Midwest, home to millions of election-winning potential GOP supporters.
But he’s playing a central role in rallying public opposition to the business-backed push to sharply increase immigration. He’s given plenty of speeches, published op-eds and even jumped into the House immigration debate on whether House Speaker John Boehner should work with Democrats and Obama to craft an immigration-increase bill.
He’s worked with tea party and outside groups, which extends his reputation and support.
“America is not an oligarchy. … A Republic must answer to the people,” he said in November, when he spent a morning at a press conference organized by Americans4Work, an non-partisan group that wants to reduce immigration.
“The Senator’s advocacy of prioritizing support of American citizens appeals to American workers both in his home state and across the entire U.S. … We believe there are tens of millions of American citizens of every race, sex and political persuasion who agree with Sen. Sessions,” the group said in a statement.
But he’s also building up a broader pitch.
He’s pushing to convert welfare programs into job preparation and training programs.
In Thursday’s speech, he called for a better energy policy, an end to Obamacare, plus a balanced budget, tax reform and a fair trading policy that doesn’t “allow our wealth to be drained abroad.”
“Free trade does have to be fair trade,” he said Thursday.