Closing the ‘Empathy Gap’

The arch-conservative Ronald Reagan won the allegiance of blue-collar voters. How he did so may offer a lesson (or two) for today.

Mr. Olsen decided to re-examine the record and concludes that Reagan was a proponent of “New Deal conservatism” who believed that government should help those in need and enable America’s working class to enjoy “dignity, comfort and respect.”

.. Like Reagan, Mr. Trump is opposed to cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits and seems committed to combating what he sees as unfair foreign trade practices. Like Reagan, he has appealed to white workers who are today disdained by conservative elites as “takers” and by liberals as “deplorables.”

 .. But Mr. Olsen disputes the idea that Mr. Trump is “the new Reagan.” Mr. Trump has employed “racialism and white nationalism,” he says, while Reagan was “free of bigotry” and welcoming toward immigrants. Mr. Olsen also doubts Mr. Trump’s ability to deliver on his promises to better the lot of workers. “He has shown no inclination to develop the type of comprehensive philosophy that drove Reagan’s political ambitions.” Like Reagan, Mr. Trump expresses a “love” for ordinary Americans, but Reagan meant it.
.. Reagan began doubting the liberal faith in the 1950s after fighting communists in Hollywood and having to pay taxes as a movie actor at the top marginal rate of 94%.
..  He often said that he did not leave the Democratic Party—it left him, by becoming weak on national security and ever more wedded to high taxes, regulation, welfare and metastasizing bureaucracies.
.. In the 1964 speech, he defended Social Security and declared that “no one in this country should be denied medical care for lack of funds.”
.. Reagan won workers away from the Democratic Party in 1980 by asking “are you better off than you were four years ago?” In the Carter era of stagflation and gas lines, the answer was obviously “no.”
.. What he sought to cut from the budget, Mr. Olsen maintains, was bureaucracy and spending not targeted at the “truly needy.”
.. GOP strategists said that they had to close a gender gap and ethnic gap. Mr. Olsen says that what really hurts the party is “an empathy gap.” To make empathy concrete, he favors cutting payroll taxes for workers and allowing tax cuts for corporations that hire Americans or raise wages.