Populist opposites: On Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz

Cover of The Populism Reader

Good morning Austin:

Today’s question.

Who is more populist – Bernie Sanders or Ted Cruz?

Bernie, right?

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I mean his campaign is all about – all about – wealth and income inequality and breaking up the incredible concentration of American wealth in the hands of a tiny few. He’s so far left in the Democratic Party that he’s not even actually a member of the Democratic Party. At a time when Democrats are afraid of being called “liberal,” he’s proud to call himself a socialist. He’s running against the Koch Brothers and Cruz is a creature of the Kochs.

So, no contest. Right?

Sen. Bernard Sanders, D-Vt., heads for the Senate floor for cloture votes on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)

Sen. Bernard Sanders, D-Vt., heads for the Senate floor for cloture votes on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)

 

But wait, don’t count Cruz out.

If it’s the job of a good populist to upset the apple cart, rile the establishment, rattle the powers-that-be. Cruz has done more of that in first 28 months in office than Sanders has done in his nearly quarter century in the House and Senate. In fact, Sanders the socialist is probably better liked by the Republican caucus in the U.S. Senate than Ted Cruz – probably much better liked.

Ted Cruz: Wrecking Ball (American Family Voices video)

Ted Cruz: Wrecking Ball
(American Family Voices video)

 

Also, if Cruz goes the distance, it will be astride an existing grassroots tea party movement, which was born out of the same economic tumult as Occupy Wall Street, but which has proved a far more powerful, important and lasting movement than Occupy.

The tea party, after all, has a controlling interest in the Republican Party in the biggest Republican state in the nation here in Texas. There is nothing comparable anywhere on the left.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md.,  Feb. 26, 2015.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., Feb. 26, 2015.

Yet Sanders said the only way he could effectively govern is with an active grassroots movement backing him up.

As he told Nicole Guadiano of USA Today:

 I believe that no president, no matter what his or her views, no matter how smart he or she may be, is ever going to accomplish anything for the working class and the middle class in this country without the active — italicized — active continuous support of grass-roots America.

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If you say, ‘Thank you for electing me, now I’ll go back and I’ll see you in two or four years,’ that is a recipe for failure,” he said.

But, just as Barack Obama has energized the tea party movement, his presidency has enervated the left, and Sanders would have to build, or at any rate, rouse that movement in the course of his campaign.

From Sam Frizell at Time Magazine – Bernie Sanders: The Populist Preacher Runs for President:

 But Sanders biggest campaign theme could well be the campaign itself. It’s a meta-campaign—a campaign that is a message that is a campaign. In a note to his supporters, Sanders said early Thursday: “This campaign is not about Bernie Sanders. It about a grassroots movement of Americans standing up and saying: ‘Enough is enough. This country and our government belong to all of us, not just a handful of billionaires.’” It’s a campaign about populism, about running against giants like Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, and about underdogs—be they working families or presidential candidates.

And, from John Cassidy in the New Yorker:

But, for all the challenges Sanders faces, his presence in the Democratic primary field is surely a plus. As I pointed out a few months ago, when he released his Economic Agenda for America, he’s a genuine economic populist, and many of his policy proposals—such as spending a trillion dollars on infrastructure investment, introducing a carbon tax, and replacing private health insurance with Medicare for all—are eminently defensible, if politically unrealistic. Most of all, he will provide a voice to those Democrats who agree with him that the U.S. political system has been bought, lock, stock, and barrel. In the televised debates and elsewhere, he will demand that the other candidates, Clinton included, respond to this indictment and say what they intend to do about it.

Cover of The Populism Reader

Cover of The Populism Reader

Sanders announced for president last week, and on Sunday he was interviewed by George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Why are you the best choice for president of the United States?

SANDERS: Because for the last 30 years, I’ve been standing up for the working families of this country, and I think I’m the only candidate who’s prepared to take on the billionaire class, which now controls our economy, and increasingly controls the political life of this country. We need a political revolution in this country involving millions of people who are prepared to stand up and say, enough is enough, and I want to help lead that effort.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So does that mean that Hillary Clinton is part of the billionaire class?

SANDERS: It means that Hillary Clinton has been part of the political establishment for many, many years. I have known Hillary for some 25 years. I respect her and I like her, but I think what the American people are saying, George, is that at a time when 99 percent of all new income is going to the top 1 percent, and when the top 0.1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, maybe it’s time for a real political shakeup in this country and go beyond establishment politics.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You are asking for a lot of shakeup. Is it really possible for someone who calls himself a socialist to be elected president of the United States?

SANDERS: Well, so long as we know what democratic socialism is. And if we know that in countries, in Scandinavia, like Denmark, Norway, Sweden, they are very democratic countries, obviously. The voter turnout is a lot higher than it is in the United States. In those countries, health care is the right of all people. And in those countries, college education, graduate school is free. In those countries, retirement benefits, childcare are stronger than in the United States of America. And in those countries, by and large, government works for ordinary people and the middle class, rather than, as is the case right now in our country, for the billionaire class.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I can hear the Republican attack ad right now. He wants American to look more like Scandinavia.

SANDERS: That’s right. That’s right. And what’s wrong with that? What’s wrong when you have more income and wealth equality? What’s wrong when they have a stronger middle class in many ways than we do, higher minimum wage than we do, and they are stronger on the environment than we do? Look, the fact of the matter is, we do a lot in our country, which is good, but we can learn from other countries. We have, George, the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country on earth, at the same time as we are seeing a proliferation of millionaires and billionaires. Frankly, I don’t think that is sustainable. I don’t think that’s what America is about.

Cartoon-Creeping-Socialism

And here is some of the subsequent discussion on This Week with Katrina Vanden Heuvel of The Nation.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, Katrina, we just heard Bernie Sanders talking about income inequality. How serious a threat is he?

VANDEN HEUVEL: Well, what you just did, George, was introduce Bernie Sanders to millions of Americans. If the mainstream media gives Bernie Sanders a chance, he is the real deal; is he a big deal. And his message is going to resonate —

STEPHANOPOULOS: You don’t think he can win?

VANDEN HEUVEL: There are formidable obstacles. But his message is in synch with the populist moment we are in. And I think his message that he wants to fulfill the promise of America, that this is not a country that is going to be defined by billionaires, but lift up ordinary Americans, deal with staggering income inequality, the climate crisis, give people good jobs, not be held to corporate defined trade deals, Bernie Sanders, who announced to the nation a year ago that he would consider running for president, let’s give him a chance. And the mainstream media might well trivialize and distort or others. But let’s give Bernie a chance.

Meanwhile, Ted Cruz’s populism has been cast into sharp relief by what is, on the face of it, a cultural and not economic issue – gay marriage.

From Right Wing News.

“Religious liberty is not some fringe view. It is the basis of this country,” Cruz said during a town hall meeting in Sioux City, Iowa, a crucial stop in his campaign to win the Republican nomination for president.

That view has changed, and Cruz told the crowd why he thinks that happened.

“Unfortunately the modern Democratic Party has elevated extreme partisanship and in particular this is all part and parcel over the fight over gay marriage,” he said. “

“And because of their partisan desire to mandate gay marriage everywhere in this country, they also want to persecute anyone that has a good faith religious belief that marriage is a holy sacrament between the union of one man and one woman and ordained as a covenant by God.”

But Cruz didn’t stop at Democrats.

Big business, he said, has “been running shamelessly to endorse the radical gay marriage agenda over religious liberties ….”

“Sadly, a whole lot of Republican politicians are terrified of this issue,” Cruz said.

Clearly, he isn’t one of them.

And, from  Bloomberg’s David Weigel and Heidi Przybyla, on Why Ted Cruz is Fighting ‘the Fortune 500’ on Gay Marriage:

Iowa conservatives were asking how and why Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act came under fire. Texas Senator Ted Cruz had found the culprit.

“The Fortune 500 is running shamelessly to endorse the radical gay marriage agenda over religious liberty, to say: ‘We will persecute a Christian pastor, a Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi,'” Cruz told a Wednesday morning audience of more than 300 people in Sioux City. “Any person of faith is subject to persecution if they dare disagree, if their religious faith parts way from their political commitment to gay marriage. The Fortune 500 has cast their lot in with that, but sadly, a whole lot of Republican politicians are terrified of this issue.”

Not two weeks earlier, Cruz had been covered by his wife’s health care plan at Goldman Sachs, a company ranked 74 in the last Fortune 500. Since then, Heidi Cruz had taken a leave of absence to hit the trail, and Cruz had found a new sword of populism. He’d fight what Franklin Roosevelt once called the “malefactors of great wealth,” because they were destroying religious liberty, and if need be he’d fight them alone.

Suffice it to say, he won’t be alone. The candidates who fill the crowded conservative lane of the 2016 Republican primary have all sought ways to brand big business and Wall Street as enemies that they can take on. Steve Scheffler, president of the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, said that Cruz’s comments speak to a concern that a nationwide assault on religious liberty goes beyond the political class.

Cruz “must have valid information” that big business is ganging up on the religious community, he said. “Why these big corporations think they have to get involved in this, I really don’t know,” said Scheffler.

Cruz is taking an issue head on that will prove critical in Iowa, he said. “This nonsense is going to come to the churches, intimidating people of faith if it’s not stopped,” said Scheffler.

The corporate backlash to Indiana’s RFRA was a key reason that the state’s Republican legislators quickly passed a “fix.” General Electric Co., Angie’s List, Wal-Mart Stores, and Apple Inc. were among the businesses loudly decrying Indiana’s move, and a simultaneous RFRA campaign in Arkansas. Tim Cook, the most powerful openly gay CEO in history, played a key role in toxifying the Indiana law with a weekend op-ed in The Washington Post.  “The days of segregation and discrimination marked by Whites Only signs on shop doors, water fountains and restrooms must remain deep in our past,” wrote Cook. 

Conservatives never fully recovered from that framing of the law. Bob Vander Plaats, the CEO of the conservative Iowa Family Leader, called Cook a “hypocrite” who was furthering his own agenda.

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His populist rage against the “Fortune 500” and its gay rights advocacy is helping convince Iowa conservatives that he can do more than speak for them. It’s convincing them that he can win.

“That quote is one of the reasons Cruz’s presidential launch has exceeded the conventional wisdom’s expectations,” says Steve Deace, a conservative talk radio host based in Des Moines. “He’s got the cojones to ‘go there.’ He’s exactly right. You can’t have a political party where the 20 percent writing the checks have different values on existential issues like amnesty, marriage, and religious liberty than the 80 percent of the people in the base.”

Cruz’s assault on Big Business is not a one-off.

In fact, the tea party exposes a fundamental fissure in the Republican Party and its relationship to corporate America.

I recently spoke about this with Steve Fraser, a labor historian in New York, who says the left fails to appreciate the genuinely populist qualities of the tea party movement.

This is one of the more interesting phenomena of the last couple of decades in American political life. The left, the progressive community, has  too easily dismissed this world as the fabricated AstroTurf creature of corporate America. Nut there are so many indications that that’s not the case, on so many specific kinds of issues where corporate America thinks quite differently, is very politically correct, or amoral on these bottom line kinds of question, and, on other matters, like immigration, corporate America’s view is often quite different (from the tea party grassroots).

 Capitalism is not some kid of unitary, homogenous, single-thinking phenomenon in America, and especially on these cultural matters,  where corporate America could care less, or cares a lot  if it’s going to  damage  their commercial prospects, while, for what I call “family capitalism” on these kinds issues, business, commercial and cultural and religious issues bleed into each other because they kind of represent the whole outlook about life.

 There are these issues where the tea party “little man,” for lack of a better word, really is at odds with corporate America and resents bigness and resents a pure free market morality.

When Sanders was in Austin month he told me, “We think that we have a chance to actually get through to some of Ted Cruz’s supporters.”

He elaborated:

Some of those people are working class people who want to be able to send their kids to college, who are as disgusted with Wall Street as I am, who understand that there is something wrong when both political parties are heavily dominated by big money, and I think what we will do, if I run, is to introduce members of the tea party to the people who founded the tea party, the Koch brothers, and to tell the tea party members what the agenda of the Koch brothers is, which is, end Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and also to have unfettered free trade. I don’t believe that is what most tea party members support.

Which is not talked about – because the media never writes it. The media says, “the Koch brothers are going to spend an enormous amount of money.” But, what do they stand for? What do they want. What does the most powerful political organization in the country want? And they’re very clear:  End Social Security. End Medicare. End Medicaid. End federal aid to education. Among other things. And give tax breaks to billionaires.

I asked Fraser about this.

“There ought to be a way to build bridges, but I don’t know how you build them,” he said. But, for now,  “it’s kind of quixotic crusade to think about (Sanders) reaching  out to these people.”

But, for starters, he said:

One thing is to shed the notion that the tea party world is the same as corporate America and simply does their bidding, which I think is a comforting illusion, delusion, that the progressive community has largely operated on the basis of. It makes life simple, but it also misses a lot.

 

Like Henry Ford before them, the Koch brothers,  he said, are “family capitalists on steroids.”

It is what Fraser calls “dynastic capitalists, like the Kochs, who back the tea party” – family enterprises with “a whole world view, a certain kind of imperial mindedness that also keeps them immersed in religious attachments, regional attachments, local things, all of which went along with the growth of family capitalism.”

And, he said, as with Henry Ford, “Part of that is hating Wall Street.”

 

 

 

theageofacquiescence

Fraser’s new book is The Age of Acquiescence, described here in capsule:

From the American Revolution through the Civil Rights movement, Americans have long mobilized against political, social, and economic privilege. Hierarchies based on inheritance, wealth, and political preferment were treated as obnoxious and a threat to democracy. Mass movements envisioned a new world supplanting dog-eat-dog capitalism. But over the last half-century that political will and cultural imagination have vanished. Why?

From the book:

For the country’s Fortune 500, free market ideology and the conflation of freedom with limited government is a tactic, not a philosophy of life. That elite circle  depends heavily on government assistance, including contracts, tax abatements, subsidies, publicly funded research, and above all a robust “bailout state.”

Nevertheless, further down the food chain, among men and women who’ve struggled to create their own businesses (or dream of doing so) and  whose success at doing just that is an affirmation of their self-reliance, ingenuity, discipline, and moral stamina, conflating the free market with individual freedom is instinctive. Collusion between big business and big government infuriates the world of the little man. But enthusiasm for capitalism is something the Tea Party shares with the bipartisan power elite.

Yet there are genuine areas of serious acrimony. How else can one explain the nasty exchanges within the Republican Party over the last several years about  such matters as NAFTA and immigration? What about the brinksmanship of Tea Party politicians in debates over resolving the debt ceiling, which pitted zealots on the right against the chamber of Commerce and otherwise powerful business and financial lobbies?

When Tea Party favorite Texas senator Ted Cruz tells The Wall Street Journal, “One of the biggest lies in politics is the lie that Republicans are the party of big business. Big business does great with big government. Big business is very happy to climb in bed with big government. Republicans are and should be the party of small business and of entrepreneurs,” he’s not lying and he’s not entirely wrong. The denunciation of the lifesaving billions received by the titans of finance by Glenn Beck and others can’t be welcome on Wall Street. (Glenn Beck may be an unscrupulous liar and paranoid demagogue, but when he blames the Federal Reserved for collapsing the economy and calls for its extinction, he can’t be helping those “too big to fail” banks for whom the Fed is a favorite watering hole.)

Hostility of that depth naturally cuts both ways. Often enough, peak corporations and business institutions don’t trust the Tea Party, finding its slogans dangerous, too ideological, and apt to invite too many  bad feelings about big business. Meanwhile, a survey of small business owners found a healthy majority favorably disposed toward the Tea Party. A party blogger advised, “Treating small business owners better than we treat real estate and Wall Street investors is an idea whose time has come.” Such fighting words convey that indigenous will to “light out for the territories,” to refresh an endless frontier of heroic self-creation – especially in the face of modern bureaucratic society, which is so debilitating and rule-bound. It eats away at the vigorous life, makes people craven seekers of security. A genuine idealism, a part Christian, a part secular version of frontier mythology, supplies the nuclear fuel for entrepreneurial radicalism.

Suffice it to say that the populist energy at the present moment is more clearly evident on the right, while the left, in the age of Obama, has gone into a kind of defensive crouch, almost automatically defending the regulatory and welfare state that it once critiqued.

“You feel under such assault that you forget to look at what your immediate ancestors found so problematic,” Fraser said.

From his book:

Our native taste for populist insouciance has soured and grown perverse. Tea Party insurgents remind us that moral self-righteousness, sense of dispossession, anti-elitism, revanchist patriotism, and racial purity that were always present in patriotism’s house of contradictions are alive and kicking.

For all the fantastical paranoia that often accompanies such emotional stances, they speak to real experiences – for some of economic anxiety, insecurity, and loss; for others, deep feelings of personal, cultural, political, and even national decline and moral disorientation.

For a half century now, Republican strategists have connived to deflect those feelings away from the understructures of power and wealth in America. One might say of this new cultural populism with its angry belligerence that it is hardly acquiescent, but it nonetheless serves the larger purposes of our own Age of Acquiescence.

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Now, even when all the boats sank in the recent financial tsunami, the labor movement and many of its progressive friends rushed into the arms of the government, cheering on the bailout state, cowed by the politics of fear into believing that without rescuing the banks the end of the world was nigh. Now the whole notion of rebelling against the state is a foreign instinct where it was once a birthright. It lives on ironically in the ranks of the populist right.

And what of Hillary Clinton?

From Amy Chozick last month in the New York TimesCampaign Casts Hillary Clinton as the Populist It Insists She Has Always Been:

Nothing stings members of her inner circle more than the suggestion that their candidate is late to these issues. Mrs. Clinton was the original Elizabeth Warren, her advisers say, a populist fighter who for decades has been an advocate for families and children; only now have the party and primary voters caught up.

“I don’t know why we have this semicollective amnesia about her past positions,” said Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress and Mrs. Clinton’s policy director in 2008. “She’s following no one on these issues.”

But affirming Mrs. Clinton’s sincerity as a populist, especially given her reputation for caution and careful consideration of political moves, is proving an uphill battle. The assessment by Bloomberg Politics after Mrs. Clinton’s first campaign stops was that she is “terrified of the left.”

It is easy to forget that for years, Mrs. Clinton weathered criticism that she was too liberal, the socialist foil to her husband’s centrist agenda. Economists in the Clinton administration referred to the first lady and her aides as “the Bolsheviks.”

Simultaneously, in the Washington Post, Greg Sargent asked the same question, Is Hillary a populist of convenience?

Is Hillary Clinton’s embrace of populist and/or progressive rhetoric and policy positions consistent with her long-held convictions? Or is she only doing it belatedly, to shore up her support on the left, and to keep pace with the passions unleashed among Democrats by the rise of Elizabeth Warren and other factors?

The question gained some steam last week when Clinton shifted her stances on two key issues. She came out for a Constitutional right to gay marriage, when previously she’d said it should be left to the states, and embraced drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants, a position she’d previously opposed.

And today the New York Times reports that Clinton allies are miffed at folks who say her populist rhetoric is merely an effort to get out ahead of Warren-ism. Someone in Clintonworld produced a dossier showing she has long argued that the wealthy are benefiting disproportionately from an economy rigged for the top, at the expense of middle and working class Americans. The Times notes that Clinton advisers argue that she is “a populist fighter who for decades has been an advocate for families and children; only now have the party and primary voters caught up.”

The real story here, I think, is what this all says about the changing nature of the Democratic Party.

It’s true that Clinton has plainly evolved her positions on gay marriage and immigration. But large swaths of the Democratic Party have evolved on these issues, too. There has been a stampede of high level Democrats coming out in support of gay marriage in recent years, in a scramble to keep pace with cultural changes that have caught everyone off guard. On immigration, the party is more unified in support of reform than it has ever been, partly a reflection of its increasingly reliance on Latinos. All of this movement is an outgrowth of a broader Democratic Party shift towards the cultural priorities of the coalition that powered Obama victories in the last two national elections — nonwhites, millennials, socially liberal college-educated whites — and away from a reliance on culturally conservative blue-collar whites.

Indeed, as Ron Brownstein writes, while Clinton is hoping to reverse Obama’s losses among blue collar whites in the Rust Belt, she has no choice but to preserve the Obama coalition as perhaps her greatest asset nationally, requiring her to continue speaking to Obama voters’ priorities. So Clinton’s movement on gay rights and immigration is probably less about making the left happy, and more about keeping pace with what has become broad Democratic Party consensus — it is inevitable, and part of a much bigger story.

OK, but this conflates progressive with populist, and a populism that fails to make any inroads with blue collar whites is not very populist.

Democrats are also especially unlikely to espouse a populism take on immigration, and here is where John Fonte,  senior fellow and director of the Center for American Common Culture at the Hudson Institute, sees the greatest promise for a new conservative populism. It is, he argues, an issue on which liberal elites and corporate America have joined hands in defense of liberal immigration polices that hurt the job prospects and wages of native American working people.

Writing recently about The Conservative Populist Breakout at the National Review, Fonte made no direct mention of Cruz, but, with his hard-as-they-come line on immigration, Cruz fits perfectly within its framework. Fonte writes:

April 2015 is the month that conservative populism broke out and reached the major leagues of American politics. On April 15, the editors of the New York Times felt compelled to denounce a Washington Post op-ed by Senator Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.), in which he called for reduced immigration to help raise the wages of American workers. The Times editors were particularly miffed that “Mr. Sessions accuses the financial and political ‘elite’ of a conspiracy to keep wages down through immigration” (“elite” is put in sneer quotes, as if there were no elite). What is important to note is not the Times’s ad hominem attack on Sessions (“choosing . . . to echo an uglier time in our history”) but the fact that the editors believed that the senator’s populist argument required an official response. Almost simultaneously, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker articulated a populist-tinged message, declaring that our legal-immigration system “ultimately has to protect American workers and make sure American wages are going up.” This set off a firestorm of controversy and placed conservative populism directly into the 2016 presidential race.

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In January 2014, 16 House Republicans sent a letter to President Obama declaring that “so-called Comprehensive Immigration Reform may be a good deal for big businesses who want to reduce labor costs . . . but it’s an awful deal for U.S. workers.” In explicit populist language, the Republican congressmen told Obama, “The White House has entertained a parade of high-powered business executives to discuss immigration policy, all while shutting out the concerns of everyday wage earners.” Among the signers of the populist letter were Lamar Smith (R., Tex.), co-author of the Barbara Jordan–inspired 1995 Smith–Simpson immigration bill, and Tom Cotton (R., Ark.), who campaigned successfully for the Senate that year, talking about immigration in the context of American workers and their wages.

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Among those who on various populist grounds are challenging mainstream support for “comprehensive immigration reform” are reporters, commentators, and analysts including Jeffrey Anderson, Fred Bauer, David Frum, Irwin Stelzer, Tucker Carlson, Matthew Continetti, Mark Krikorian, Henry Olsen, Ramesh Ponnuru, Reihan Salam, Byron York, Neil Munro, James Antle, Andrew Stiles, Jay Cost, Matthew Boyle, and Rachel Stoltzfoos, and media stars Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter. Often decried by, among others, the editors of the Wall Street Journal as “yahoos,” the populist bloc has assembled a veritable counter-intelligentsia of considerable depth and sophistication.

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After Dave Brat’s victory (over Eric Cantor) , Tucker Carlson told Sean Hannity: “He [Brat] wasn’t [just] making the case against amnesty — lots of people do that — he was making a case for better wages,” arguing that increasing immigration will depress wages “for middle-class workers.” When the Schumer–Rubio bill was being debated, Matthew Continetti, in The Weekly Standard, advocated a “labor Republicanism,” declaring, “A labor Republican opposes the Senate immigration bill not only because it’s a bureaucratic monstrosity, but also because an influx of cheap labor would decrease low-skilled wages.” After Jeff Sessions’s op-ed in the Washington Post, John Hinderaker of Power Line urged “Republican presidential candidates” to “emulate” the senator’s “populist touch.” In the aftermath of the America-first, “wages and workers” controversy stirred up by Scott Walker, Breitbart’s Matt Boyle reported that conservative intellectuals, activists, and media figures (Lowry, Kristol, Coulter, Hannity, Phyllis Schlafly, and Mark Levin) rallied to Walker’s side. Grassroots activists: the unsung heroes of the populist right: An absolutely crucial (in some ways, the most important) part of the emerging conservative populist coalition is the committed citizens who spend hours directly contacting their elected representatives. A large number of Republicans in Congress are on the fence on immigration and will listen carefully to their most determined constituents. Grassroots conservatives are joined together in groups like Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, Numbers USA, Heritage Action, and the Tea Party Patriots. It is not an exaggeration to report that in congressional district after congressional district, conservative activists are fighting Big Business lobbyists, not just for the future of the Republican party but, more significantly, for the future of the American constitutional regime as a whole.

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American voters have perceived Republicans as being too close to Big Business. This widely held view certainly contributed to the hemorrhaging of working- and middle-class support for Mitt Romney in 2012. Conservative populism offers a different message. Law professor Glenn Reynolds, a pro-free-market blogger, argues that the tech industry’s wage-suppressing conspiracy offers an “appealing target” for Republicans. Reynolds reminds his readers that the tech oligarchs have been “big donors to the Democratic Party for years.” Commenting on Byron York’s description of Silicon Valley’s treatment of American IT workers, Reynolds declares, “There’s a big campaign issue here, if the GOP can bring itself to say something negative about big corporations.” Gallup reported recently that only 7 percent of Americans agree with Big Business that legal immigration should be increased, while 39 percent favor cutting legal immigration. As Jeffrey Anderson pointed out in The Weekly Standard, that’s a 5.5 to 1 ratio. Good enough for political work.

Even this populist moment, such as it is, is unlikely to deliver a Bernie Sanders-Ted Cruz battle of the populist opposites in the 2016 general election. But, if it somehow happened, it’s not clear to me which outcome Big Business/Corporate America, would find more unsettling.

My guess is there would be a quick clamor for a self-financed independent candidacy by Michael Bloomberg to save America from the masses, and that would make for a most memorable race – a Boston-born Jew vs. a Brooklyn-born Jew vs. the Canadian-born son of a Cuban immigrant. What a country.

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