Republicans now view Donald Trump — not Ronald Reagan — as the best president in history, according to a recent poll. But whether Trump’s legacy proves to be as significant as Reagan’s depends in part on the next generation of GOP candidates.
Will they simply mimic his style but ignore the social crises he pointed to? Or will they work to secure the border, shore up the working class and stop endless wars?
Two Senate candidates — J.D. Vance and Blake Masters — offer one of the most promising signs yet that the Republican Party will take on the problems Trump recognized.
A veteran of the Iraq War, graduate of Yale Law and author of the best-selling book “Hillbilly Elegy,” Vance has come out against amnesty and denounced foreign entanglements. Above all, his Ohio Senate campaign has stressed the need to promote the things that help America — healthy families, productive work — and weaken universities, Big Tech and other elite bastions waging a class-culture war that harms the country.
Masters — co-author of the best-selling entrepreneurship book “Zero to One” and a graduate of Stanford Law — launched his campaign in Arizona with a video saying that we need to complete the border wall and make America a country “where you can afford to raise a family on one single income.” His campaign site states that we need to spend less time exporting democracy and more time “standing up to the bureaucratic national-security state.”
Criticism of the pair has already started, which is hardly surprising. Vance and Masters are campaigning against the status quo. They believe that the greatest threats faced by America are internal, not external. They argue that we don’t need to liberate foreign nations — we need to liberate ourselves from a corrupt, oppressive elite whose members live in the same cities, go to the same colleges, hold the same opinions — and try to silence anyone who disagrees.
Masters, who just entered his race, has received less criticism than Vance. But if the response to Vance is any indication, that will soon change. The Bulwark has accused Vance of betraying the insights of his memoir of growing up poor in Appalachia. The Atlantic has simply called him an assh - - e.
Many of Vance’s most bitter critics once applauded his book. They believed that its portraits of lower-class dysfunction showed the need for a culture of personal responsibility among the poor. This was a self-serving response. Stressing the responsibility of the poor tends to downplay the responsibilities of the wealthy. Dwelling on the pathologies of the working class can obscure those of the elite. Why expect the down-and-out to show responsibility when the high-and-mighty refuse to accept accountability?
Vance has infuriated his former fans, because he has criticized the overclass as well as the underclass. Like Masters, he has seen the American elite up close. Both men know that the cultures of Washington and Silicon Valley are no less dysfunctional than those of Appalachia. The people who made the case for war in Iraq continue to lecture the rest of the country. The tech founders who promised a new birth of freedom delivered censorship.
Instead of denying elite failure, Vance and Masters are campaigning as traitors to their class. They were supposed to mouth the usual liberal pieties, which just so happen to be markers of social distinction. They were supposed to support policies that just so happen to be in the interest of the elite. But they have refused.
Why? Perhaps because they know that the opioid crisis can be told as a tale of countless individual bad choices, but it is also a story about Purdue Pharma and corporate labor arbitrage that shipped millions of good manufacturing jobs overseas.
Perhaps they see that the story of our misguided intervention in Iraq or the hollow nature of our technological progress — tweets instead of conquering space — is hard to blame on anyone but the people who run our governments, corporations, media giants and universities.
No one said that being a traitor to your class was easy. If Masters and Vance succeed, they are bound to be denounced by former friends. This may not be pleasant, but it will be healthy. The less friendly they are with all their old classmates and colleagues, the freer they will be to go against the consensus that binds our elite. That is exactly what the nation needs.
Matthew Schmitz is a senior editor of First Things.