Monday, March 28, 2016

how the GOP elite lost its voters to Donald Trump


NYTimes |  Last March, Republican members of the House Ways and Means Committee filed into a Capitol Hill conference room to discuss trade. The Obama administration, negotiating a trade pact with Pacific Rim nations, was seeking congressional approval to fast-track the deal. Opposition was intense not only among labor unions, but among many Republican voters, while the party’s leadership, atypically, was supporting Mr. Obama’s effort.

For help, the lawmakers turned to Frank Luntz, the Republican messaging guru. For two decades, Mr. Luntz had instructed Republicans on how to talk about thorny issues. Do not say “estate tax.” Say “death tax.” Do not privatize Social Security. “Personalize” it.

Few issues were now as dangerous to them as trade, Mr. Luntz told the lawmakers, especially a trade pact sought by a president their voters hated. Many Americans did not believe that the economic benefits of trade deals trickled down to their neighborhoods. They did not care if free trade provided them with cheaper socks and cellphones. Most believed free trade benefited other countries, not their own.

“I told them to stop calling it free trade, and start calling it American trade,” Mr. Luntz said in an interview. “American businesses, American services — American, American, American!”

While Republicans debated rhetorical approaches, Mr. Trump took a radically different tack. Announcing his campaign a few months later, he spun a tale of unfair trade deals hashed out by lobbyists, backscratchers and incompetent presidents who were stealing jobs from Americans. He would stop the flow of jobs over the border with Mexico, Mr. Trump promised, and build a wall to stop the flow of people.

That message has resonated with lower-income voters, and helped drive Mr. Trump’s string of successes. In Mississippi and Michigan, both of which Mr. Trump won, six in 10 Republican primary voters said that free trade cost the country more jobs that it produced, exit polls showed.