GOP: Grand Old Police
As we know, the police are under constant attack. Just on July 13, a cop in Bothell, Washington, was shot and killed by a gunman during a traffic stop. According to the Seattle Times, the shooter yelled, “Come on, pigs,” as the police approached–and then opened fire. Jonathan Shoop was thus the 124th police officer to die in the line of duty this year.
Across the nation, violent attacks on police are escalating. On July 15, New York City cops were bloodied in broad daylight by assailants who know that Mayor Bill De Blasio shares their dislike for the police. De Blasio has set a tone such that the police know that there’s no point in arresting hoodlums—risking being disciplined or fired—when the bad guys will just be back on the street an hour or two later. And on July 17, the Chicago police were given the thankless task of defending a statue while being pelted with projectiles, obviously under orders not to respond.
So in this bleak environment, it’s heartening to see instances of spontaneous kindness toward the police. Indeed, if we study these instances, we might learn something about future opportunities for the Republican Party to rebuild a majority coalition around the basics of public safety.
In particular, two tweets about the New York Police Department deserve our attention.
First, on July 13, cops in the city’s 122nd Precinct tweeted, “Thank you to the Staten Island Nurses for dropping off food and for the beautiful plaque!” The tweeted photo from the station house shows policemen and policewomen—white, brown, and black—all looking spiffy in their blue uniforms, gathered around a Blue Lives Matter plaque, presented to them by the nurses.
Second, the following day, July 14, the New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA) retweeted the item, adding its approval—and additional context: “Cops and nurses showing our #unionstrong solidarity—we’re saving lives side-by-side every day. Meanwhile, @nynurses leadership has gone all-in on the anti-cop political movement. Are they listening to their members?”
Cops and nurses showing our #unionstrong solidarity— we’re saving lives side-by-side every day. Meanwhile, @nynurses leadership has gone all-in on the anti-cop political movement. Are they listening to their members? https://t.co/kBt4nF7A0t
— NYC PBA (@NYCPBA) July 14, 2020
The points made in the PBA tweet are worth unpacking. New York City’s Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, founded in 1892, proudly bills itself as “the largest municipal police union in the world,” representing 24,000 New York City cops. As its website declares, the PBA “seeks to protect and advance its members’ rights and interests. Among other things, it negotiates their contract, which establishes compensation, benefits and working conditions, ensures fair treatment by the City and the NYPD, provides legal services and representation, and administers their health and welfare benefits.”
In other words, the PBA functions like most other unions: It exists to look out for its workforce. After all, history has shown that workers who don’t have some sort of organization to look out for them tend not to do as well as those that do have the power of organization. Unless an individual has a great fortune, he or she needs a group in order to be safe and strong; it’s the proven power of a team. So no wonder the PBA visibly uses the hashtag #unionstrong—that’s a key part of its identity.
Yet even though the police in the big cities are pro-union, they are also conservative, in the sense of believing in law and order. To put that another way, few of them are libertarians; they are, after all, public employees, and they live in a world of rules and discipline. So that’s why, over most of their history, big-city cops have tended to be conservative Democrats. On economic and fiscal issues, they have leaned to the left, and on social and cultural issues, to the right.
The Theory of the Republican Case
To many Americans today, the cops’ mix of world-views—some views on the left, some views on the right—might seem confusing, and yet what might appear to be eclectic is actually a consistent whole. This worldview is consistent, for instance, with the Catholic social teachings of Pope Leo XIII in the late 19th century; Leo celebrated the “dignity of labor,” calling for careful harmony between employees and employers. For the most part, Leo’s teachings have been carried on by the American Catholic Church ever since.
Catholic social thought, emphasizing blue-collar values and virtues, guided America’s urban politics for the first three-quarters of the 20th century, sometimes even shaping national politics, particularly during the mid-century presidencies of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy.
We can add that Donald Trump picked up on at least some of those themes in his 2016 campaign, when he ran as both a populist and a social conservative.
We can also add that Catholic social thought was re-articulated, just last year, by Sen. Marco Rubio; paying homage to Pope Leo, Rubio called for a “common good capitalism,” aimed at encouraging economic dynamism while protecting the rights of labor.
Interestingly, just this month, Sen. Ted Cruz offered his own take on blue-collar coalition-building when he observed, “I think the most fundamental and important shift in the last decade in politics is that Republicans have become the party of the working class.” Cruz then added some more class-based analysis: “Today’s Democratic Party is the party of Silicon Valley billionaires . . . today’s Republican Party are Ohio steelworkers, today’s Republican Party are single moms waiting tables.”
So as we can see, Republicans are starting to grasp cold political reality here: There’s no theory of the case by which the Republican Party will regain its majority unless it does well with the working- and middle class.
That is, if the Democrats are the party of the rich, the poor, and the professors, the Republicans must be the party of the working middle—and truly own that middle.
We can stipulate that this working middle comes in all colors. And that fact only makes sense, because, after all, social stability is a most precious value to working stiffs. Unlike the rich, regular folks can’t afford to live in distant estates and hire security guards and therapists to keep them safe and well; they have to deal with the crime and craziness up close—and they don’t like it.
As a data point here, we can look to the work of the left-leaning journalist Michael Tracey. Having recently visited riot zones across the country, including Minneapolis, Tracey reports that “working class non-whites frequently express ‘small-c’ conservative cultural attitudes”—and those attitudes include support for tough law enforcement measures. (If that’s not what the Main Stream Media are “reporting,” then that’s a reminder: we’re fortunate to have honest reporters such as Tracey.)
Yet as we know, neither Trump nor the Republican Party have been able to gain the votes of most working people in the cities and urban clusters. In fact, four years ago, Trump couldn’t even break 40 percent in his home region of New York; moreover, in the years since, it’s become increasingly hard to find a Republican office-holder in the Tri-State area surrounding Manhattan.
So we can see: If we want the Republican Party to be stronger and reach wider, we have to think harder. Think harder, that is, about what a majority coalition would look like—including workers in the cities.
We can start our consideration of this challenge by revisiting those sweet angels who visited the 122nd Precinct—the nurses.
Given the fact that the cops’ PBA is a union, one might expect that other unions would be there, as the PBA says, in “solidarity.” Unionists, after all, often refer the “labor movement.” Indeed, just as individuals gain strength from being in a group, so, too, do individual unions—that’s the whole point of a movement.
For labor, it’s a simple formula: The more we are, the stronger we are. However, that strength-in-numbers logic is currently breaking down in the case of the police unions, which are increasingly being shunned by progressive Democrats, including those in unions.
Indeed, we can see this intra-labor split clearly if we re-examine that July 14 PBA tweet. Specifically, we can recall these two plaintive sentences: “Meanwhile, @nynurses leadership has gone all-in on the anti-cop political movement. Are they listening to their members?”
The Twitter handle @nynurses refers to the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA),which represents 42,000 nurses across the Empire State, although mostly in New York City. As the PBA tweet suggests, the NYSNA has gone full “woke”; in fact, the first thing one sees on its home page is an arty image of the late George Floyd, with the words “Justice for George” emblazoned over his head like a halo. And under “Latest News,” we see wokey headlines, such as “Remembering George Floyd, Combating Racism,” and “Racism: the unaddressed public health crisis.” Indeed, from the look of its website, the NYSNA is as worried about George Floyd and racism as it is about the coronavirus and working conditions for nurses.
So we might think that the police and the nurses are simply in different places, politically. But then, of course, we might think further and rightly conclude that the leadership of the NYSNA is not only in a different place than the police—but it’s also in a different place than rank-and-file nurses.
After all, as we saw in that July 13 tweet, some nurses have great sympathy for the police: Indeed, the nurses who brought that Blue Lives Matter plaque to the 122nd Precinct were happy to be photographed doing so. And so that reminds us of that question posed to the nurses union leaders by the PBA: “Are they listening to their members?”
As to why cops and nurses ought to be together, we can observe that the two lifesaving professions have a lot in common. Typically, both cops and nurses are drawn from the working- and middle classes, and they both work in challenging, sometimes dangerous, jobs. (The cops have faced more physical danger than the nurses, of course, although in the era of Covid-19, nursing has become more hazardous.) Moreover, a great many cops and nurses are married to each other, or otherwise share family.
With these cops-nurses similarities in mind, it becomes clear that there’s a gap between the highly ideological leadership of the NYSNA and its more centrist membership.
From a political point of view, such gaps can be seen as opportunities. That is, if Republicans can figure out a way to go around the nurses union leadership and communicate a good message to regular nurses directly, they could be rewarded with their votes.
Indeed, as part of their political outreach plan, Republicans might learn to get involved in union politics, something Democrats have been doing for decades—that is, helping elect friendlier union leaders.
Moreover, when there’s a gap between leaders and followers, the followers have potential options for maneuver. For instance, insurgents can use the union ballot box as a way of shifting the union back toward the middle. That tactic doesn’t always work, of course, and yet other options, too, are available. For instance, if conservative and centrist nurses were unable to recapture their union, they have the option of starting up a new faction or caucus—or even, conceivably, a new union altogether. American labor history is, in fact, full of examples of unions splitting apart for ideological reasons. And if that history is unfamiliar to Republican operatives—then it’s time for them to hit the books.
One other thing we know from history is that nurses, like most workers, have plenty of practical concerns to worry about—and so of course, they are often reluctant to get caught up in avant-garde politics. Yes, just like the cops, nurses have to think about wages, working conditions, and pensions. And lately, of course, with even more urgency, they have to worry about workplace safety, starting with personal protective equipment.
So here’s where the Republicans might seize their opportunity. If the GOP is serious about being the party of the working class—as Sens. Rubio and Cruz have argued it should be—then it needs to start thinking about an agenda that would appeal to nurses, including those basic questions of pay, dignity, and safety.
In fact, earlier this year, this author argued that the GOP ought to court “essential workers,” pursuing the vision of the Republicans as the party of workers, soldiers, and first responders. (In that same spirit, this author has also argued that the GOP should stand foursquare with police unions.)
Yet as of now, the Republican Party is nowhere near that goal, especially in regard to women. Political data on nurses—88 percent of whom are women—as a specific group is hard to come by, but we can gain perspective on the nurse vote by considering the polling on women who don’t possess four-year college degrees. Their views might serve as a proxy for nurses’ views.
For instance, a Washington Post/ABC News poll from June found a wide gap in the presidential preferences between non-college men and non-college women. In the words of scholar William Galston, “Although support for President Trump among non-college men stands at 71 percent, as high as it was four years ago, his support among non-college women has fallen by 11 percentage points, from 61 percent to just 50 percent.”
We can observe that if such women are split down the middle on Trump, that spells trouble for his re-election campaign; indeed, that split helps explain why the President trails Joe Biden by eight to 10 points. As of now, it’s hard to argue with this headline in Fivethirtyeight: “Biden’s Polling Lead Is Big—And Steady.”
A Majority Healthcare Agenda
So what would a pro-nurse agenda look like? How to appeal to 3.8 million nurses across the country? It’s worth noting that according to Gallup, nurses rate as the most respected profession in America, and so their support probably has a “multiplier effect” on other voters.
Okay, so what do nurses want? These days, most obviously, they want not only dignity and respect, but also safety. And we can all judge for ourselves how well politicians in both parties have done during this virus crisis, starting with the adequate provision of masks and other protective equipment.
Beyond the virus, nurses are, not surprisingly, supportive of healthcare. And to them, that means, yes, national health insurance. Moreover, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a solid majority of Americans support Obamacare—and it’s a safe bet that nurses are even more supportive.
In fact, just on June 30, the voters in ruby-red Oklahoma approved Medicaid expansion, following up on a provision of the Affordable Care Act of 2010. Thus Sooners continued a string of pro-healthcare victories in statewide referenda that had been held in other Republican states, including Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah.
Once again, it’s easy enough to see why national health insurance is popular among regular folks: Working people aren’t rich. They know that they might be just a paycheck or two away from financial ruin in the event of a medical emergency—and everyone has medical emergencies.
Oh, and did we mention that 5.4 million Americans have lost their health insurance in the wake of the coronavirus? In light of this deprivation, should these folks be expected to take kindly to Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare, which could provide them with their only health-insurance option? If, as Rubio and Cruz say, the GOP is the natural party of the single mom waiting tables, shouldn’t the Republican Party go all-out to help such a mom—and all others like her—get coverage?
Instead, the Trump Justice Department is actually, at this moment, supporting a legal bid to the Supreme Court, asking it to declare all of Obamacare unconstitutional. Now, suppose the Court rules that way: Are Republicans ready with a replacement plan? After a decade of trying and failing, we all know the answer to that question.
So now we must ask ourselves: Does such a slapdash approach to healthcare seem like a vote-getter for nurses? And for the American people as a whole?
As this author has been arguing for years, the GOP had the chance to undo Obamacare and replace it with something better—but only if the replacement actually existed. That replacement could have, and should have, excluded abortion, sex-change operations, and other left-wing exotica, but at the same time, it should have been rock-solid in its guarantee that pre-existing conditions would be covered, that bills would be manageable, that the luckless would be taken care of, and so on. That’s what working people want—and will vote for.
Really, it’s simple: If the Republican Party wants the votes of nurses, it will have to ask for them. And it will have to ask for them in terms that the nurses—not some think-tank ideologue trying to tell them what’s good for them—consider to be acceptable.
If the GOP is to be the color-blind party of the working and law-abiding—that is, the sort of party that appeals to cops and nurses—then it will have to put its common-sense, good-hearted, non-woke policies on the table, for all to examine and evaluate.
If Republicans can do that—if they can think like the good shepherd—there’s a strong chance that they’ll be able to win back centrist votes, especially if the Democrats keep AOC-ing themselves.
Conversely, if the GOP merely pretends to be the party of the working and law-abiding, while neglecting the actual needs of many of them—that’s a formula for failure. Indeed, now that we’re deep into the 2020 campaign, we’re getting a fairly good sense of how the pretend strategy is working out.
But let’s be optimistic: Let’s believe that the GOP will learn from its mistakes, seize the initiative, occupy the vital center, and truly make itself the party of cops and nurses. And when we get the cops and the nurses, we’ll get a lot more votes, too, from other working people.
Let the Democrats have the fringes. We’ll take the middle—and win.