But weirdly, much of the GOP is reluctant to explicitly target the middle, either with rhetoric or ideas. It’s not necessarily that Republicans don’t care about the 99 percent. They just think their way is better than the Democrats’ way, even if it’s less obviously and directly helpful to the middle class. This is the party that believes “a rising tide lifts all boats,” that faster economic growth is the best path to shared prosperity. To concede otherwise is to challenge one of the modern party’s first principles. Moreover, many think mentioning the “middle class” by name — much less pushing policies to directly help it — smacks of “class warfare” and uses the language of Karl Marx. As Rick Santorum, one GOPer who has actually focused on the middle, has put it, “Since when in America do we have classes? Since when in America are people stuck in areas or defined places called a class? That’s Marxism talk.”
I also hear this a lot: “President Reagan didn’t mention the ‘middle class’ and he won two landslide elections.” That’s a valid point, as far as it goes. I looked at seven major Reagan speeches from his 1980 presidential campaign and early presidency and found not one mention of the “middle class” (and just one of “middle-income people.”) Then again, the heart of Reaganomics was a giant, across-the-board income tax cut. All income tax rates were cut and no longer would inflation be allowed to nudge middle-income workers into higher and higher tax brackets. In politics, cash money means never having to say I love you.
But what is the modern GOP offering during a time when a rising tide is leaving too many Americans stuck and stranded? The party’s desire to cut business taxes at a time of record corporate profits probably seems off point to many voters (even though workers bear at least a portion of the corporate tax burden.) And cutting the personal income tax rate — even if it boosts GDP growth — won’t immediately help the nearly half of Americans who don’t pay those taxes.