History will record last week as a moment when President Trump turned to raw racial appeals to attack a group of nonwhite lawmakers, but his attacks also underscored a remarkable fact of his first term: His rhetorical appeals to white working-class voters have not been matched by legislative accomplishments aimed at their economic interests.
As Mr. Trump was lashing out at Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna S. Pressley, House Democrats were passing a minimum wage bill with scant Republican support and little expectation of Senate passage. On the same day, the president issued a perfunctory announcement naming Eugene Scalia, a corporate lawyer and the son of Antonin Scalia, the former Supreme Court justice, as his new secretary of labor on the recommendation of Senator Tom Cotton, a hard-line Arkansas conservative.
The events offered a reminder not only of what Mr. Trump was interested in — racially driven grabs of media attention — but also of what he was not: governing the way he campaigned in 2016 and co-opting elements of the Democrats’ populist agenda to drive a wedge through their coalition.
Since he became president, Mr. Trump has largely operated as a conventional Republican, signing taxes that benefit high-end earners and companies, rolling back regulations on corporations and appointing administration officials and judges with deep roots in the conservative movement. His approach has delighted much of the political right.
It has also relieved Democrats.
“Just imagine if Trump married his brand of cultural populism to economic populism,” said Representative Brendan F. Boyle, a Democrat who represents a working-class district in Philadelphia. “He would be doing much better in the polls and be stronger heading into the general election.”
It is a question many Democrats still fret over: What would Mr. Trump’s prospects for re-election look like if he pressured Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, into passing bipartisan measures to spend billions of dollars on infrastructure, lower the cost of prescription drugs and increase the minimum wage? [Continue reading…]