Timothy Carney argues that Republicans could make 2014 a referendum on corporate welfare. That is fine as far as it goes, but I don’t think it gets at the core of the right’s political problems. It is fine to portray the center-left as wanting to take taxes with one hand and give out subsidies to the connected with the other, but it is starting your presentation by answering a question the public doesn’t seem to be asking. Fifty-three percent of 2012 voters believed that Romney’s policies would primarily benefit the rich. If the Export-Import Bank is shut down, if the risk corridors in Obamacare are eliminated, if any of the conservative plans to end too big to fail are implemented, I’m not sure that voters around the median income would see any impact in their daily lives in the medium-term.

That doesn’t make any of those policies wrong or even politically unattractive. I happen to agree with them. It is just that I don’t think they amount to much absent a positive program that directly impacts people who are near the median income or who are economically struggling. Regardless of whether Republicans attack crony capitalism, the GOP is going to be the relatively lower tax and lower spending party. Absent a middle-class agenda, they are still the party of the rich and all the crony capitalism talk will just sound like Republicans want to shift money from Democrat-favored rich guys to Republican-favored rich guys. It still leaves Republicans as the—or at best another—party of the rich guys.

The crony capitalism stuff works best if it build on a foundation of policies that that directly address the concerns of middle-class and struggling voters. If being the relatively lower tax party means bigger paychecks for working parents and conservative health care reform means more secure access to health care for working families at lower cost to the government, the public might be more open to hearing about how the Democrats are the party of cronyism. If cuts to crony capitalism complement polices designed to connect the long-term unemployed to the labor market, then the public might see that cuts to the connected might result in better lives for the vulnerable.

It happens that Republican senators like Mike Lee and Marco Rubio have proposed such policies and Carney does refer to them, but I think the emphasis needs to be more on the pro-middle-class policies than the anti-crony capitalist policies.

Articles by Pete Spiliakos

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