These are strange times we are living in. Much that we know, or thought we once knew is up in the air, and no one is quite sure where everything will come down. But one thing is certain, the MNGOP needs to win the, bluecollar, working class of the state in order to be viable state wide.
President Trump got very close to winning Minnesota in 2016. This was, in no small part, because of the defection of many, traditionally blue-collar Democrats defecting from the party of their grandfathers to vote for him.
The question for we conservatives in Minnesota, now, looking towards 2020 is this; what is Trump offering that we aren’t? The Trump supporters are not GOP loyalists, yet neither are they leftists who really, truly embrace the Democratic platform.
Having lived the better part of the last decade on the Iron Range, I am continually struck by the strange dichotomy here. One one hand, the people here are hearty, hard working, family and community-minded people that dearly love their history and their country.
Yet they vote Democratic like it’s part of their religion.
Until Trump, I was very confused by this. But as with any force of nature, our good president caused me to reconsider a lot of things I once took for granted.
After having listened and studied. I compiled a list of five things that Iron Rangers care about that the MNGOP must consider to continue luring blue-collar voters away from the Democrats (I don’t use “DFL” because the acronym is a farce) and keep their votes during and after the Trump administration. You will notice that I don’t spend alot of time on mining itself. Support for mines new and old is a given in this case study. This has been an easy buy-in for the GOP as an issue. Yet we still continue to barely eek out territory. If our support for mines is not coupled with a deeper understanding of the mindset of the working men and women on the Range and around Minnesota, we will continue to lose.
Please consider these points carefully. We all have our theories about how the world ought to work, but we first and foremost must meet voters in the world they experience if we are to ever have a chance at gaining their trust.
- Good Wages. Despite the tired, right-wing talking points, the only people who can easily raise a family here on the Range, and even consider having one parent stay at home with the kids, are the ones who have good paying jobs. Miners are fiercely proud of their profession, but it is very hard work. They continue the work of their forefathers because, unlike most jobs these days, it actually pays to mine. I suspect that it is the same with most people around the state. The GOP used to boast of its support for good wages, from Lincoln down through Teddy Roosevelt, and between them was built a mighty American middle-class. Also, for the traditionalist conservatives (like myself) out there, raising a family might be a choice, and a good one, but to completely ignore how finances play a role in helping families start and thrive is perilous at best.
- Unions. The GOP needs to understand the appeal that good paying industrial jobs have to the working class. Nobody actually wants to work at McDonalds and hardly anyone will ever start their own small businesses. Saying that service jobs are the way of the future is both fatalistic and untrue as President Trump has shown us. Republicans wonder why the miners so often back a political party whose dominant, environmentalist wing hates the very existence of mining and is diametrically opposed to expanding it. The answer is simple. Democrats, for all their faults, do not support right-to-work laws and always side with unions in a fight. My point on good wages is closely connected to this point. Profit driven corporations can often leave their workers high and dry, with no other prospects available (see Amazon). For all their faults, the unions have provided a financial cover for many on the Range and throughout Minnesota. Doug Wardlow received backlash from the nurses unions for his previous support of right-to-work laws that very well could have hurt him throughout the state.
- Family. Here is one that Republicans should be more than willing to jump on, but often shrink at when presented by the challenge. The Iron Range is very socially conservative. We do not need to be worried about being corrected for pronouns or intersectionality when talking to an Iron Range miner about his family or his community. While they may balk at the Jerry Falwells and Moral Majorities of the world, there is nothing strange to a Ranger about someone going to church, or raising a family. They are as concerned as anyone else about the state of marriage and the inability of families to support themselves. While they may vote jobs and unions first, the GOP should not be afraid of bringing up social issues like the Planned Parenthood’s proposed sex education curriculum, gun rights, drag queen story hours and even (carefully) abortion. The blue collar Democrats have lived in uneasy peace with the left in their former coalition, and if the GOP is willing to work with them in other ways, they may find an open ear to other, pressing conservative social concerns. Showing a genuine concern for the cost of living and the lack of jobs that can sustain a single-income family could be a tremendous first step to finding open ears. Education and healthcare are also incredibly important. The GOP cannot ignore these bread and butter issues. The actions they take must be strong, principled and bring real, tangible relief to those caught in the grind of institutional breakdown.
- Retirement. Just as you can mark the age of a young kid by their current grade in school, here on the Range, you can usually date the age of a working Ranger by asking him how many years away he is from retirement. As with my previous point, this is a very important promise made in the community of the Iron Range. If you continue the work of the Range, namely mining, or supporting it through the schools, and other community institutions and businesses, you may retire in peace at a ripe but still, presumably able and energetic age. It is almost poetic in a sense. This promise, by the way transcends party affiliation, with Republicans as wary as Democrats of anyone who wants to interfere with a benefit that they consider to be a rite-of-passage in Iron Range Life.
The GOP has been less than sensitive to this promise in the past few decades. I am no wonk, and am open to the issue of reforming entitlements. But I don’t think that the institutional GOP realizes that this is an issue that requires a tremendous amount of public good-will that politicians have not, heretofore earned from the working class. Republicans would do well to remember that when the first thing a politician says on T.V. is “I want to change how you plan to retire” without first establishing an essential bond of trust between him and his constituents, failure is almost assured. That trust has yet to be gained.
- The Iron Range. “Just move” is the common refrain from ivory-tower libertarian-conservatives when they hear that an industry has uprooted (usually overseas) and left a grim wasteland of broken dreams and drug addiction in its rear-view mirror. This is not only electorally stupid, it also ignores a central truth of the American experience; free societies don’’t grow on the road. Alexis de Toqueville famously praised Americans for their communities and religion that he believed were the root of our freedom. The rootedness of a community allows for local customs and norms to be passed from one generation to the next, and the bonds of trust between people granted by these norms allows for people to govern themselves without the need of a strong, central government. But how can any of this happen when our blue-collar jobs keep drying up and our children leave for other fields. It is not enough for Republicans to say we need regulatory reform to help businesses stay in the areas. We do need it, but more important still is the recognition and praise of our local communities as such. The Iron Range is beautiful because it is the Iron Range of Minnesota just as the communities of Minneapolis are beautiful because they are unique and rooted in their own ways. This is not a call for some strange welfare program, but a call for my fellow conservatives to remember that communities are not the cold numbers of businesses and efficiency, but living, breathing things that deserve to have every chance they can get to live and pass on their unique stories and our freedoms. “Make America Great Again” Is really about America, first and foremost, not jobs, not employment, but our great nation. We should think of every part of our nation this way. The Iron Rangers certainly do.
In conclusion, this really isn’t rocket science. If the GOP wants new voters, ones who are willing to go along with their platform, then they will have to start listening and having conversations with non-traditional Republicans voters. They will have to listen to concerns outside of places like the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute. Voters need to know that their parties are offering real, tangible improvements to their everyday lives and those around them. Our conservative principles do not exclude this, in fact, they demand it. The Iron Range and St. Louis County are as close to a red-county in the making as you can find outside of those that are already dominated by the GOP. Let’s be bold, forging new alliances in places thought untouchable. Let’s bring on a new era. The night seems dark, but morning is always just around the corner.
Jacob Giese is the VP for Media for the Republican Party of Minnesota St. Louis County.
He lives in Gilbert and is married to the daughter of a miner.