The path to the White House runs through the Rust Belt. There’s no way around it.
Trump won in 2016 because he won Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, all of which Democrats had carried in every election between 1992 and 2012. He won those states by a combined margin of just 77,744 votes.
Trump’s reelection bid failed because he lost all three, plus Arizona and Georgia. Biden won those last two states by only 22,236 votes, making them prime targets for the GOP in 2024. The problem is, taking back those traditional Republican strongholds won’t be enough to seize the White House. Unless Michigan, Wisconsin or Pennsylvania turn red next November, we’re in for four more years of Sleepy Joe. That’s just simple math.
It’s so simple that even Biden can handle it. Trump won those three states largely because of his image as an economic populist who cared about white working-class voters crushed by deindustrialization. Hillary Clinton lost because those same voters viewed her as a neoliberal free-trade fanatic who would happily ship their jobs overseas and leave them to die. She didn’t even bother campaigning in Michigan or Wisconsin.
Those states flipped back to blue in 2020 for two reasons. First, because Biden was able to cash in on anti-Trump sentiment to boost turnout among blue suburbanites. Second, because Biden was less off-putting to the Rust Belt proletariat than Hillary was. In 2024, the latter group will probably matter a lot more than the former, especially if Biden ends up facing DeSantis.
This means that to hold onto those three states, Biden will need to expand his share of the white-working class vote, and for the past two-and-a-half years, he’s been working hard to do just that. (RELATED: Biden’s ‘Green’ Manufacturing Plan Is Running Into a Huge Problem: Report)
Biden has effectively outflanked the GOP on economic policy. Trump said he’d crack down on China and bring back manufacturing. Well, Biden kept Trump’s China tariffs in place while delivering a body blow to the rising superpower with the CHIPs and Science Act. According to the Financial Times, U.S. companies responded by quickly committing more than $200 billion to new domestic manufacturing projects in the semiconductor and clean energy sectors, up twentyfold from 2019 numbers.
Biden also issued an executive order to “support American manufacturing” by directing federal agencies to “buy American” and passed $1.2 trillion in infrastructure spending, delivering on one of his predecessor’s unfulfilled campaign promises. Come 2024, Biden will be able to tour the new job sites and factories his policies created. To the independent voter watching on TV, it’ll look a lot like Biden is the candidate of the forgotten man.
Today marks one year since President Biden signed the infrastructure law.
Trump talks. Biden delivers. pic.twitter.com/O7wvgBKSxJ
— The Democrats (@TheDemocrats) November 15, 2022
Republicans who hope to undercut these achievements by harping on inflation are deluding themselves. Inflation in April was 4.9 percent, down significantly from its June 2022 peak of 9.1. By the time voters head to the polls, it could be even lower.
Nor will Tea Party-era denunciations of out-of-control government spending be enough to carry the day. By this point, everybody knows Republicans never actually cut spending when they’re in power. (RELATED: McCarthy Says Biden Withheld 89% Of The Budget During Negotiations)
Nor can Republicans afford to ignore the economy and run against wokeness. The party still has Dobbs hanging like an albatross around its neck. For every suburban mom horrified by porn in middle school libraries, there’s another who’ll vote to preserve her daughter’s right to kill her grandchildren in the womb. The best we can hope for on culture war issues is a stalemate. The Republican nominee should obviously run against critical race theory, drag queen story hour and trans women in sports. Those are all moral outrages as well as winning issues. But he should realize that they won’t be enough.
What the GOP standard bearer needs is an across-the-board policy agenda to strengthen American families. And so far, neither candidate has articulated anything like that. DeSantis is a culture warrior who won his 2022 landslide in prosperous, rust-free Florida. It’s too early to tell how he’ll pitch himself to Cheeseheads and Michiganders. Trump has seized on DeSantis’ lack of economic messaging to portray his rival as “too online,” catering to elite Republicans with college degrees instead of the lower-status voters who make up the former president’s base. Trump, however, seems more fixated on vengeance for 2020 than on offering a real vision. (RELATED: Here’s Who’s Really Running To Be Trump’s Running Mate)
The right kind of economic agenda would win back the Rust Belt by exploiting one of Biden’s key vulnerabilities. When Biden took office, his first order of business was passing the Build Back Better Act. Due to opposition within his own party, mostly from West Virginia moderate Sen. Joe Manchin, Biden allowed the massive bill to be pared down and passed as the Inflation Reduction Act. The IRA included hundreds of billions in green energy subsidies, but the more important part is what it didn’t include. BBB would have included universal preschool and pre-K, subsidized child care, four weeks of paid family leave, at least a million new apprenticeship slots, free community college and an extended child tax credit that would have slashed child poverty by sending checks to parents every single month. In the end, Biden dropped all of that and chose to prioritize the climate screechers.
A true populist agenda would pick up those policies, dust them off and refashion them toward conservative ends. The preschool funding, child care subsidies and child tax credit could be combined into cash payments for families (with a special bonus to incentivize marriage). These no-strings benefits could then help pay for daycare, support a live-in grandparent/nanny or enable a spouse to drop out of the workforce and stay home with the kids. Expand the family leave to six weeks. Pay for the community college and trade apprenticeships by defunding woke universities. Redirect the green energy subsidies to build 50 new nuclear power plants. Step up the trade war against China with the goal of reshoring more industries. Angle for endorsements from private-sector unions.
In the debt ceiling talks, Sen. @JDVance1 did something really interesting that’s (so far) flying under the radar – he proposed scaling back EV credits and plowing the savings into eliminating EITC marriage penalties pic.twitter.com/j6rzVBBYzD
— Patrick T. Brown (@PTBwrites) June 2, 2023
Couple those policies with traditional Republican planks like boosting domestic oil production, securing the border and expanding school choice, and you have a winning agenda.
Republican voters, especially in must-win states for 2024, are tired of libertarian bromides. They want a president who will fight back — hard — against the elites who have destroyed their communities and their lives. They don’t want government to get out of the way. They want it to undo, or at least mitigate, the damage it’s done with decades of neoliberal economic policy. They don’t want their kids castrated or shamed for being white, but they also want those kids raised at home by their mother with good jobs in the community waiting for them when they graduate. Enough pandering to woke corporations that hate us. If Republicans want to win in 2024, it’s time to invest in American families.
Grayson Quay is an editor at the Daily Caller.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.