On Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, Henry Olsen posted on the National Review Online his final prediction for the election on Tuesday, in which he said that Mitt Romney would lose to President Barack Obama by one point and a little less than one hundred electoral votes.
In the end, Romney lost by a little bit more than that. But the reason Olson gave was correct: Romney could not get enough votes from working-class whites in the Midwest and elsewhere, who were sympathetic to much in the GOP's message, but could not relate to his laissez-faire theme.
Still in pain from the aftershocks of the 2008 meltdown, they wanted more in the way of support from their government. Romney, who won them on eleven of twelve leadership qualities, lost them because he lost big on the twelfth one: "Cares about people like me."
"A message that emphasizes the role government can play on helping average people advance rather than one that emphasized naked market forces ... will resonate with both white and Hispanic non-Evangelical voters," Olsen told us. "But that is not the path Romney took."
Olsen explains in The Working Class Republican, released last month, the back-and forth trajectory of the white working class. Politically orphaned since the Democrats collapsed in the late 1960's, these voters have bounced back and forth between parties, giving each party a short, hopeful burst of optimism at an apparent mandate. It happened in 1992, 1994, 2004, 2006-2008, and 2010-2014. But these voters went on to drop whichever party they had temporarily adopted when it turned out not to serve their interests.
They wanted a non-large, non-complex, non-dictatorial state apparatus, but one that at the same time preserved programs that promised assistance in case of misfortune, such as illness, age, disability, or market disruptions that cost one one's job.
At odds with the ideological base of each party — the progressives on one side and on the other the Barry Goldwater conservatives, who wanted to shrink the federal government until it could drown in the bathtub (or slip down the drain, whichever was easier) — it was nonetheless the one hope both sides had of forming a majority that would last past the next set of midterms. The white working class was always the one group that could contrive to align with the rest of each party without blowing the whole thing to bits.
For years, and long before Donald Trump had appeared, Olsen had been urging his party to take the few steps needed to add the working class to its coalition. He used the example of Ronald Reagan, an ex-Democrat and four-time FDR voter, as someone who did. He knows that it is because Reagan was an FDR voter that he is the most successful conservative who ever held power. He knows that those who support and glorify only those who create jobs will never lead a majority party; and that those who support people who create jobs and those who fill them can make the Republicans what they were when Reagan was president: the party of and for the American people, and a national party again.
Trump isn't Reagan or Roosevelt, but someone who has given the party a Reagan-like coalition, giving it wins in places and among constituencies not won by Republicans since Reagan's vice president, George H.W. Bush, ran for the third term of Reagan in 1988. It is up to the party to take this and run, to add its finesse to this inspiration so that its new voters will want to stay in it. So that whatever Trump says, does, or tweets won't tarnish the moment, and so that this chance of all chances will not slip away.
Noemie Emery, a Washington Examiner columnist, is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."