Saagar Enjeti: Republicans lost Kentucky by failing to appeal to working class

Opinion by: Saagar Enjeti

Republican Governor Matt Bevin's loss in Kentucky offers up a lot of lessons to the GOP.

The problem, of course, is that they're already learning the wrong one from the media who is obsessed with noting that Trump came to the state to campaign for Bevin and he still didn't win. The media wants us to believe that Trump is so singularly toxic that it’s the only reason that Bevin lost.

Just look at this from Joe ScarboroughCharles (Joe) Joseph ScarboroughScarborough says he'll never return to Republican Party after GOP supported Trump Fox News wins ratings week, while MSNBC touts daytime figures Scarborough: Putin more likely to take tough question than Trump MORE:

So pathetic. First of all, none of that was true. He was actually behind in the polls. 

The other narrative Republicans have tried to comfort themselves with is that Bevin was, of course, a uniquely unpopular figure in the bluegrass state. 

Days before the election, he garnered just a 32% approval rating. They think ‘he was just a mean guy, I have nothing to worry about’. Wrong, the truth is that Bevin betrayed the very reason that people voted for Trump in the first place and that is why cratered an easily winnable election. 

He governed as a classic libertarian chamber of commerce type republican by trying to institute Medicaid work requirements, slashing pensions, and insulting teachers when struck as a result. He even sued his own constituents in order to fight for Medicaid work requirements and then he threatened to fully pull the state out of the Affordable Care Act.

Don't, of course, forget this particular gem when the governor blamed striking teachers for the shooting of a seven-year-old girl or when he suggested that more kids would be sexually assaulted as a result of the strike. "Children were harmed -- some physically, some sexually, some were introduced to drugs for the first time -- because they were vulnerable and left alone." 

Nice dude.

In short, he let down the working class people who needed him the most in a state that shed thousands of coal mining jobs and was ravaged by an opioid crisis. The very same people who trusted Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden adds to vote margin over Trump after Milwaukee County recount Krebs says allegations of foreign interference in 2020 election 'farcical'  Republicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden MORE to fight for them and put him in the oval office of the United States. 

Bevin's governance as a typical slash and burn corporatist governor in a solidly white working class state is very instructive. Trump voters either stayed at home en masse or specifically took the opportunity to stiff him at the ballot box because he betrayed them and the Trump agenda. Simply putting on a MAGA hat and yelling drain the swamp isn't enough, you actually have to walk the walk.

Bevin's loss should be a warning to the entire GOP under Trump. So many of them have donned MAGA hats and yelled about how great deregulation is. Now look, deregulation is fine. But what about any of the pro-worker policy that Trump ran on in 2016? Republicans are the first to blame for not seizing their opportunity in 2017 with divided government and they may very well pay for it in 2020. 

It doesn't have to be this way.

Right now there is a Republican governor who holds a 72% approval rating....in Florida. Yes, the same Florida that only voted for Trump by a 1% margin and who barely elected Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump, Biden clash over transition holdup, pandemic plans Group of Florida mayors calls on DeSantis to issue mask mandate DeSantis promises to keep Florida open despite recent coronavirus case surge MORE with a razor thin margin. How exactly did DeSantis accomplish this remarkable feat? 

In stark contrast to Bevin, he has declared 2020 "the year of the teacher" in Florida with attempts to raise minimum salaries to the second highest in the nation. He's paired this proposal with mandatory e-verify for businesses which would make it much harder for them to hire illegal immigrants.

At the same time he's been heterodox on climate change, called for more funding to save the Florida everglades, and by all local accounts he has a very strong record of actually getting things done in the legislature with a bipartisan agenda.

He's also not a squish. He has moved to allow teachers to carry guns in classrooms, he's encouraged colleges to host controversial speakers, and has maintained a very conservative record on immigration. In short, he's actually done more than most republicans have across the United States and especially here in Washington.

Desantis's pairing of raising teacher salaries with mandatory e-verify is politically brilliant. In both cases he is trying to increase wages for the working class. That's what it’s all about. My friend Reihan Salam wrote in January 2019: "Ron Desantis is showing the GOP a different path forward." And from all accounts, maybe they should check out the results and take that same one. Not the one that Matt Bevin outlined in Kentucky.