“I am your voice!” was President Trump’s 2016 promise to the “forgotten men and women” of America. The lower middle class, largely white voters to whom he was speaking found their voice in battlegrounds such as my home state of Pennsylvania. Then they voted Republican.
As the 2020 election looms, both Trump and his Democratic challenger will need to speak to the concerns of Pennsylvanians once more. But are these “forgotten Americans” still the key to the White House?
Former vice president Joe Biden, still the apparent Democratic front- runner, appears to think so. He tried to out-Trump the president at an October campaign rally in Scranton. Biden’s speech echoed President Trump’s 2016 talking points, but he also told the blue-collar crowd that Trump’s reforms have been half-measures—that Trump “forgot about the forgotten American.” No malarkey, as Biden’s slogan tells us.
Trump struck back in his usual cheerleader fashion at a December campaign stop in Hershey, saying, “Pennsylvania is doing great now, folks. … We found the magic wand, didn’t we?”
But no one wants to be remembered every four years at election time, just to be forgotten again.
True, President Trump has unleashed our economy with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which boosted paychecks for taxpayers of all income levels. Now, the unemployment rate is hitting historic lows, but some workers are finding it harder to earn success.
While the Trump administration’s tariffs may temporarily boost business for some suppliers, they bleed American manufacturing jobs and raise costs for consumers. Most alarmingly to many Trump voters, he has done nothing to fix out-of-control government spending, racking up a trillion-dollar deficit this year.
If Democrats are serious about taking advantage of Trump’s weak- nesses and earning the votes of forgotten Americans, they must recognize that the men and women of Pennsylvania and other battleground states are no fools. They want far more than lip service and political talking points. They want fairness and opportunity for themselves and their families.
But Democrats propose the opposite: a huge welfare state funded by higher taxes. Forget it. Polls show Pennsylvanians want welfare reform, not handouts. And we view taxes as the most important policy issue— more important than immigration, education, crime, and health care. To woo and win Pennsylvanians in 2020, Democrats should learn from the trials and tribulations of our Democratic governor, Tom Wolf.
Wolf campaigned as a pragmatic, Jeep-driving businessman.
But upon entering office in 2015, he quickly proposed the largest spending increase in decades—and the largest tax increase in state history. He earned the rating of “most liberal governor in America” from InsideGov.
Pennsylvanians, who also elected a conservative state legislature, wanted no part of Wolf’s irresponsible plan. Wolf landed zero tax increases in his first year. He even addressed a looming fiscal crisis by signing the most significant public pension reform in the country in 2017. And to win reelection, he had to abandon his tax-and-spend dreams in the name of fiscal responsibility.
This year, Wolf committed to a budget with “no new taxes”—complet- ing a remarkable pivot toward fiscal responsibility forced upon him by the Keystone State’s so-called “forgotten” men and women.
Here’s the lesson for 2020 candidates: voters felt forgotten in 2016 not because they were looking for politicians to save them but because they sensed the economy was rigged against them.
What Pennsylvanians really want is for everyone to play by the same rules, for hard work to pay off, and for all people to have the opportunity to live a prosperous life. That’s exactly what the free market provides.
The free market has drastically reduced poverty in America and around the world. And policies that expand opportunity have a proven track record of spurring wage growth—including faster wage growth for low-skilled workers.
No matter their party label, political leaders who want to help the people they call “forgotten” must remember that Americans believe in self-reliance and hard work. They don’t want class wars or trade wars. They simply want a fair shot at success.