A few days before Christmas, President Obama sat down with NPR for a one-on-one interview that would signal what was on the mind of most DC Democrats: men. But not just any type of man, the working class man.
A combination of flatlining wages and economic stresses have made it so that blue-collar men “are no longer getting the same bargain they got before,” Obama explained.
But this wasn’t exactly a new direction. Like most politicians, the president has spouted concerned soundbites about the blue collar worker for decades, but this time was particularly unique and so was the timing. For the first time during the 2016 presidential cycle, Obama was weighing in with a specific message about working class males targeted at a very specific Republican male: Donald Trump.
“You combine those things [flat wages and economic stress], and it means that there is going to be potential anger, frustration, fear,” he said. “Some of it justified, but just misdirected. I think somebody like Mr. Trump is taking advantage of that. That’s what he’s exploiting during the course of his campaign.”
With one carefully crafted soundbite that was delivered to dismiss any momentum Trump was tapping into among men as simply exploitation of anger, Obama telegraphed that the left was worried about Trump’s ability to galvanize what were traditionally Democratic voters — very, very worried.
Typically, sitting presidents try to ignore the Republican primary candidates for as long as possible, or at least attempt to hold out until a nominee is named, but Obama’s obviously calculated and coordinated pre-holiday message dump telegraphed early on just how concerned the left is about losing a critical voting block to someone that the media and beltway elites had foolishly written off as a long shot.
If Dems were concerned about Trump as far back as December, it’s now morphed into full blown panic. Trump is leading the charge with with working class men en masse. He’s won the plurality of their votes, most recently in states like Pennsylvania and Indiana because he’s maintained message discipline on two key issues that matter to the red blooded American male who finds himself increasingly out of work and left behind: immigration and trade. On immigration he never misses an opportunity to pound the point that illegal immigrants are stealing jobs from the American worker, or that the Davos crew is busy shipping them overseas to countries like China.
Last week, surrounded by 30,000 cheering West Virginians — many of them coal workers — Trump donned a hard hat and gave two thumbs up as he made assurances that unlike the career politicians who came before him, he would have their backs:
“Our jobs are going to everyone else but us. We’re sending our jobs to Mexico. China is taking our jobs … Japan. They’re all taking our jobs. That’s all going to change very rapidly, folks. I promise.”
In an arena filled largely with blue collar men, Trump hammered “Crooked Hillary” and her husband Bill’s support of NAFTA and passionately argued how these types of trade deals have failed American workers, how regulations have strangled business and destroyed families, and how he not only felt their pain about “working two jobs and making less money” but that he refused to let it continue: “It’s not gonna happen anymore.” The crowd went wild.
This type of voter doesn’t identify with the establishment fancy lads on both the right or left. They don’t have country club memberships or wear Nantucket red shorts. Even though Trump owns many country clubs, they don’t see him as out of touch, and appreciate that he can identify their problems in plain speech they can understand instead of poll-tested platitudes.
In past elections Romney was too busy pandering to ladies with his “binders full of women,” and Obama was too busy trying to buy their birth control that the white, working man in the middle got lost in the shuffle. Cops who feel disrespected by progressives, construction workers, fire fighters, first responders, veterans, and active duty military mad at how Obama and his underlings have blown the fight against our enemies and futher wussified America with every apology to our enemies make up the Trump bro squad. For the blue collar male, eight years of Obama and eight of Bush have resulted in 20 trillion in debt, decades of never ending war and nation building while the nation they helped build (literally) has left them behind. Their healthcare, their housing, their finances — all broken by parties that pledged to represent their interests.
To add insult to injury, bloggers at increasingly irrelevant publications like National Review illustrate this point by insisting that communities like the white, working class “deserve to die,” and that it’s not the politicians who have put their interests before the American workers: “nobody did this to them, they did this to themselves.” But this election cycle it isn’t the blue collar worker that appears to be dying, it’s those who discounted them.
Men aren’t just feeling economically depressed. By society’s standards they have become our cultural punching bags. Television shows have portrayed men as the doofus dad since the days of Al Bundy to the Family Guy. Commercials always seem to illustrate a scenario where the guy can’t log onto the wifi without instruction from his wife or kid or one where he can’t figure out the directions in the car while his put-together wife navigates in a suit, implying she works and he doesn’t. The feminist pursuit to tear down the patriarchy gave birth to a subtle brainwashing that men weren’t necessary — to women, to families or to society.
Forget women, there’s a full blown war on men. One that many columnists, pundits, and pollsters didn’t see coming because they never engage with the construction worker who is building their new deck or the repairman who is fixing their jacuzzi. As Nicholas Kristof wrote Easter Sunday in the New York Times, “We failed to take Trump seriously … We were largely oblivious to the pain of working-class Americans.” Columnist David Brooks opined a similar sentiment and lamented he has to figure out how to do his job better. He isn’t the only one.
White men are Hillary’s greatest weakness. Her opponent, Bernie Sanders, who like Trump rails on free trade), has maintained a commanding plurality of support from these voters. Former Democratic presidential candidate Jim Webb (D-WV) said he won’t support her if she’s nominated leaving the door open for the Donald to scoop up even more support from men. And he’s already signaling a move to do just that.
When Clinton recently remarked that she can handle men who “go off the reservation,” Trump responded swiftly and astoundingly by doing something no politician has done in recent memory: play the man card.
“Hillary Clinton is being very nasty to men,” he shot back. Already acutely aware that that Hillary has man troubles, Trump sought to further burnish the suspicion that she doesn’t prioritize men like she does women on the brains of the already suspicious blue collar voter. Whether it was true or not, Trump demonstrated that he was, in fact, serious about defending them.
If the last election centered around women, 2016 is the year of the the man. With an impending gender war between Trump’s army of men and Hillary’s army of women on the horizon we may just see who politically is the more potent sex. With Trump on the scene, white men are fighting back quietly by casting a vote for a candidate that hears them, feels their pain, and no longer leaves them out of the process. The question is, is their power enough to put him in the White House, or will they both be left out of work?
Andrea Tantaros is a Fox News political analyst and author of the new bestseller Tied Up in Knots: How Getting What We Wanted Made Women (and Men) Miserable, in stores now. Buy it here.