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June 2014 Brief: Volume 21, Number 16

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A Revival of the Nixon-Reagan Coalition?


by John Hendrickson



Rick Santorum, a former Republican Senator from Pennsylvania and a former contender for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012, has authored a new book, Blue Collar Conservatives: Recommitting to an America that Works. Blue Collar Conservatives is an important political treatise in which Santorum provides a conservative policy blueprint for the Republican Party to follow. Specifically he is writing to remind the GOP of not only the importance of defending life and marriage, but also the middle-class blue collar workers who made up the historic Nixon-Reagan coalition. These voters worked in manufacturing or other related blue collar jobs and may have been Democrats or independents, but they share the conservative values of the Republican Party.


Santorum is arguing that the GOP “cannot forget the blue collar conservatives who are the backbone of this country.”[1] Santorum also argues that “as many as six million blue collar voters stayed home from the polls, and there’s good reason to believe that a large majority of them would have voted Republican if they had voted.”[2] “Those voters — many of them in rural and small-town Rust Belt — didn’t hear anything in the Republican message to inspire their confidence in our party to make their lives better. If anything, they detected a note of contempt,” noted Santorum.[3]


In Blue Collar Conservatives Santorum also illustrates his arguments with real life examples of people who are part of the blue collar middle class who have “conservative values; they believe in family and faith; they are willing to work hard; they are patriotic, with a patriotism that ties them to their community.”[4] These individuals who work in manufacturing, skilled labor positions, and in a variety of industries such as steel, have suffered greatly in recent years because of the loss of manufacturing jobs and the Great Recession. “The fear and anxiety bred by the weak economy and the breakdown of the family are bad enough, but lately they have given rise to a disturbingly un-American malady — hopelessness,” argues Santorum.[5]


The source of this “hopelessness” stems from the weak recovery and the decline in incomes for the middle class and the growing level of dependence on government programs.[6] As Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and Stephen Moore, Chief Economist at The Heritage Foundation, wrote:


This bitter pocketbook reality speaks loudly to the utter failure of Obama’s economic policies — bailouts, stimulus plans, $5 trillion more in debt-financed spending, Obamacare, failed green energy investments, and tax hikes.[7]


Moreover, the economy is plagued by the growing national debt, which is over $17 trillion, and the out-of-control government spending. The Affordable Care Act is also causing problems by not only increasing health-care costs, but adding additional fiscal burdens to the budget. Paul and Moore argue that “workers are having a harder time than ever finding a full-time, 40-hour-a-week job,” because of the impact of the Affordable Care Act, which is “holding many new positions below 30 hours a week.”[8]


The United States over the past several years has seen a drastic decline in manufacturing. A major reason for this decline is trade policy. As Santorum argues, “we’re losing jobs because of high corporate tax rates, excessive regulatory burdens, and other anti-business policies coming from Washington.”[9] Santorum also argues that policymakers need to “examine our trade policies.”[10] As Patrick J. Buchanan noted:


Real wages of U.S. workers have not risen in 40 years. One in three manufacturing jobs vanished between 2000 and 2010. The nation that used to produce 96 percent of all it consumed depends now on foreigners for the clothes and shoes we wear, the TV sets we watch, the radios we listen to, the computers we use, the cars we drive.[11]


The decline in manufacturing is not only bad for good jobs and wages, but also is harmful to national security and sovereignty as so-called “free-trade” deals have eroded.[12] The United States trade deficit increased from $98.49 billion in 1994 to $474.86 billion in 2013.[13] In 2014 the overall trade deficit is projected to be $531.01 billion and increase to $619.27 billion by 2015.[14] One example of this alarming trend is that “full-time eBay sellers outnumber full-time steelworkers.”[15] One of the many policy solutions proposed by Santorum is to reform the corporate tax, which punishes businesses and the jobs they create. As Buchanan argues, “put a 10 percent tariff on imports and the abolition of the U.S. corporate tax becomes a revenue-neutral proposal.”[16]


Santorum’s Blue Collar Conservatives is a powerful book that needs serious consideration in policy debate confronting the nation today. It is also a defense of middle-American values and a wakeup call for a nation to reverse the current decline and return to conservative limited-government policies.


[1] Rick Santorum, Blue Collar Conservatives: Recommitting to An America That Works, Regnery Publishing, Washington, D.C., 2014, p. 8.
[2] Ibid., p. 9.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid., p. 32.
[5] Ibid., p. 33.
[6] Senator Rand Paul and Stephen Moore, “Raise Middle-Class Wages, Not the Minimum Wage,” The Foundry, May 13, 2014, The Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C., <> accessed on May 15, 2014.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Santorum, p. 151.
[10] Ibid., p. 155.
[11] Patrick J. Buchanan, “Why the Reagan Democrats Departed,” Human Events, July 2, 2013, <> accessed on May 15, 2014.
[12] William Shearer and Ian Fletcher, The Conservative Case Against Free Trade, The Conservative Caucus Foundation, Vienna, Virginia, 2012, pp. 16-19.
[13] Alan Tonelson, “WTO’s 20th an Unhappy Birthday for U.S. Trade,” U.S. Economic Alert, April 17, 2014, U.S. Business & Industry Council, <> accessed on May 15, 2014.
[14] Alan Tonelson, “Big Trade Deficit Woes Just Ahead,” U.S. Economic Alert, May 8, 2014, U.S. Business & Industry Council, <> accessed on May 15, 2014.
[15] Grover Norquist, Leave Us Alone: Getting the Government’s Hands Off Our Money, Our Guns, Our Lives, William Morrow, New York, 2008, p. 8.
[16] Patrick J. Buchanan, “Abolish the Corporate Income Tax,” Creators Syndicate, May 13, 2014, <> accessed on May 15, 2014.



John Hendrickson is a Research Analyst with Public Interest Institute, Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Contact him at


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