Donald TrumpDonald TrumpRobert Gates says 'extreme polarization' is the greatest threat to US democracy Cassidy says he won't vote for Trump if he runs in 2024 Schiff says holding Bannon in criminal contempt 'a way of getting people's attention' MORE promised to champion “the little guy,” those “forgotten” Americans who struggle to make ends meet.
Unlike other Republican presidents, these voters are an important part of his base. “The composition of the Republican party has shifted significantly over the last decade to non-college whites,” observed Public Opinion Strategies, a leading Republican polling firm. That has accelerated under Trump.
The president is feeding them rhetorical red meat, and he sides with much of this constituency on social issues. But on economic policies — the stuff that helps make ends meet — Trump has forgotten these folks.
It starts with his tax cut, weighted overwhelmingly to benefit corporations and wealthy individuals like Donald J. Trump. The administration and congressional tax writers insisted it would generate an economic boom that would trickle down and create a surge in wages for working class citizens.
It hasn't happened.
A recent study by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service found “ordinary workers had very little growth in wages” last year. This affirmed early projections by the Congressional Budget Office.
Most of those small gains will be wiped out by big tariffs that Trump has slapped on imports, particularly from China. These disproportionately fall on working- and middle-class families who spend a much larger share of their disposable income on affected goods.
The conservative-leaning Tax Foundation has estimated these levies will cost the average middle and lower-middle income family $146 a year. That's chump change to the affluent, but not to a family making $50,000 a year.
The Trump health care policies have hit workers hard, though some of the more onerous initiatives have been thwarted by Congress. Obamacare's health insurance subsides and protections for people with pre-existing conditions primarily affect those not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid or old enough to be eligible for Medicare.
Trump repeatedly insists, as recently as last weekend, that he always sought to protect coverage for those with pre-existing conditions. That's not true. He is suing to overturn the entire Affordable Health Care Act — and the only major Republican alternative would dilute protection for those with pre-existing conditions.
The president's de-regulatory policies, while saving a few jobs, hurt many of those without means.
There are numerous examples, many overturning Obama policies; a few will illustrate.
Take for-profit colleges. The Obama administration cracked down on schemes in which as many as 800,000 working- and middle-class students were promised unrealistic career prospects while running up huge bills; many were defrauded, all had unaffordable debts. The rules shut down some of these scams.
Under Trump these rules are either being rolled back or simply not enforced, says James Kvall, president of the Institute for College Access and Success, which does research on higher education affordability. “They are going to leave hundreds of thousands of students with debt that they will be unable to pay.” The Administration is even slow-walking 158,000 pending claims of fraud against for-profit institutions. (Kvall was the deputy domestic policy director in the Obama White House.)
One of the most direct hits at Trump voters is the Labor Department's actions on overtime pay. The Democrats proposed to more than double — to $51,000 next year — the threshold under which workers automatically qualify for one-and-a-half times pay when working more than 40 hours a week. The Trump administration cuts that back to $35,000.
This lower level, the liberal Economic Policy Institute calculates, would cost 8.2 million workers $1.2 billion in extra annual pay. By their estimates, more than 60 percent of those adversely affected are non-college educated whites.
The current $7.25 an hour minimum wage, last raised 10 years ago, is another good example. Although 21 states with over 50 million people don't have a higher minimum wage, Republicans are opposed to increasing it — even though voters overwhelmingly have approved a higher level in such deep red states as Arkansas and Missouri.
There is a simple explanation: “Raising the minimum wage has ripple effects that benefit all workers,” says Debbie Berkowitz of the National Employment Law Project. “It wins on the ballot because people instinctively understand that what helps the minimum wage workers boosts the wider economy.”
Donald Trump should explain why he doesn't get that to his non-college educated white supporters.
Albert R. Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter-century he wrote a column on politics for the Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter @alhuntdc.