Republican in the White House in 2016?

In spite of its extremism, two factors will assure a more competitive GOP in the 2016 presidential election. First is the GOP’s unified effort to appear less radical in the public’s eye. Second is the belief of Democrats, especially the Hillary crowd, of their advantage due to presidential elections which sport more young and minority voters. Related to this, Hillary’s current strength among the base puts off progressive challengers like Elizabeth Warren.

The first is evidenced by the popularity of Scott Walker in New Hampshire, not a known quantity nationwide, certainly not known for his Wisconsin anti-labor, pro-business stance. He evades right-wing snafus, such as Todd Akin’s comments on “legitimate rape” in 2012.

Like most Republican candidates for president in 2016, he clearly refuses to be drawn into statements that will openly label him as radical, basic gotcha questions like torture, evolution and birth control. For example, speaking at the Chatham House foreign Policy think tank in London, where Walker hoped to establish foreign policy credentials, he was asked, “Are you comfortable with the idea of evolution? Do you believe in it?” “I am going to punt on that one,” he said.

The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), held recently, also signaled Republican unity in portraying moderation. It welcomed all likely GOP presidential candidates, including Jeb Bush, who is considered more moderate. Knowing some threatened to boycott his speech, Jeb brought his own cheering section. Radicals like Sarah Palin even toned down her extremist rhetoric with more lucidity and less vitriol, speaking of veterans and PTSD. Ted Cruz showed conservative propriety by framing gay marriage as a states’-rights issue rather than moral.  Usually showing more vitriol at past CPACs, the CPAC conference was almost gentlemanly with no hate-mongered signs like “No Muslims = No Terrorists” seen during George W. Bush times.

The second factor eliciting warning signs for Democrats and Hillary Clinton is more complicated. Hillary is more jingoistic than the progressives in the party, something which currently suits the American majority’s view about ISIL, but she owes allegiance to Wall Street, and like establishment Democrats, seems unable to deliver on serving the working class.

There is still unrest among Americans regarding stunted progress for the middle class. Too many liberals have let conservative talking points guide their discussion about the wage growth problem: workers don’t have the education or skills required for high-tech jobs; robots and globalization are taking all the jobs, leaving workers behind.  Voters are not really interested in buying such excuses that, in effect, blame the workers. The real cause of stymied wages is embedded in the political and corporate system.

The stagnation of wages is actually a thirty-five-year story, one which both parties let happen. We all know that the focus has been on the so-called makers during that period of time. Conservative forces – both parties — have made sure that corporate profit and stockholders are the focal points. Corporations plow back profits into executive salaries and stockholder dividends, not into labor, and compared to the past (before 1980), not into capital. Why replace cheap labor with robotics? And overall, corporate structure has shifted risk down to workers with contingent contracts, stingier retirement benefits, less generous franchise models, and plentiful subcontracting agreements. The laser focus on profits means most going to the top and less to the bottom.

It’s no surprise that government policy helps drive wage stagnation too. Conservatives talk endlessly about the free market, but our economy is shaped and driven by government policies that work for business and against the worker. For example, where are the people opportunities when college students must accumulate over a trillion dollars in debt to get a college education? Even health care is corporate-centered with the failure of Congress to allow bargaining with Pharma for better drug prices and Obama’s ACA being the Republican profit-centered healthcare model.

The real value of the minimum wage has fallen about 33% since 1968. Union membership was cut in half over the past 30 years, from 20% to 10%. Unions used to bolster wages and benefits for union and non-union workers alike. The way government structures markets has weakened labor and caused wages to stay stuck. For this, we need to look toward Congress and the President, but we can also see the bias against workers in other institutions, whether the Federal Reserve Bank, the media, or the court system – something the power system put together over the last thirty years.

The Federal Reserve policy has overseen an unemployment rate of over 6% for over 6 years, consistently attacking inflation, which is worrisome for corporations, rather than unemployment.  GOP obstruction and its budget constraints have kept government funding so low that there are 500,000 fewer government workers since 2008. Courts have consistently ruled in favor of corporations, regarding bankruptcy, healthcare benefits, unions, and consumer litigation against corporations.

The warning signs are there if candidate care to see them. The public is not happy with either political party or with government in general. A recent Gallup poll asking, “What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?” Eighteen percent say “government.” Eleven percent say “the economy.” Ten percent say “unemployment.” Seven percent say “immigration,” and the same percentage say “healthcare.” Other issues register less than seven percent. Another recent Gallup poll gives neither political party a 40% favorability rating.

With only two parties providing candidates in the 2016 Presidential election, Republicans, in spite of their extremism demonstrated in the past, could prevail. If the Republican candidate can appear more moderate than the party actually leans and is less known for extremism, like Scot Walker in Wisconsin, for example, and if Hillary Clinton does run and continues the Clinton – Bill and Hillary – allegiance to corporate interests and perfunctory middle class support – what we have seen, in effect, during the Obama and Bill Clinton tenure — the tide could well swing Republican.

With Hillary, we saw pro-worker rhetoric in 2007, during the 2008 presidential primary, but as we said, wage stagnation has been going on for some thirty years. The middle class will want more in 2016.

James Hoover is a recently retired systems engineer. He has advanced degrees in Economics and English. Prior to his aerospace career, he taught high school, and he has also taught college courses. He recently published a science fiction novel called Extraordinary Visitors and writes political columns on several websites. Read other articles by James.