What To Do About Right-Wing Rural Voters (and Others)

“Can Anything Be Done To Assuage Rural Rage?” That was the title of Paul Krugman’s NY Times column on Thursday. He described the problem but wasn’t sure how to solve it. On Friday, Brian Beutler made a suggestion in his Big Tent newsletter. First, some of Krugman:

Rural resentment has become a central fact of American politics — in particular, a pillar of support for the rise of right-wing extremism. As the Republican Party has moved ever further into MAGAland, it has lost votes among educated suburban voters; but this has been offset by a drastic rightward shift in rural areas… But is this shift permanent? Can anything be done to assuage rural rage?

The answer will depend on two things: whether it’s possible to improve rural lives and restore rural communities, and whether the voters in these communities will give politicians credit for any improvements that do take place.

Katherine Cramer, the author of The Politics of Resentment … attributes rural resentment to perceptions that rural areas are ignored by policymakers, don’t get their fair share of resources and are disrespected by “city folks”.

As it happens, all three perceptions are largely wrong….

The truth is that ever since the New Deal rural America has received special treatment from policymakers. It’s not just farm subsidies, which [in 2020] accounted for around 40 percent of total farm income. Rural America also benefits from special programs that support housing, utilities and business in general.

In terms of resources, major federal programs disproportionately benefit rural areas, in part because such areas have a disproportionate number of seniors receiving Social Security and Medicare. But even means-tested programs — programs that Republicans often disparage as “welfare” — tilt rural. Notably, at this point rural Americans are more likely than urban Americans to be on Medicaid and receive food stamps.

And because rural America is poorer than urban America, it pays much less per person in federal taxes, so in practice major metropolitan areas hugely subsidize the countryside. These subsidies don’t just support incomes; they support economies: Government and the so-called health care and social assistance sector each employ more people in rural America than agriculture, and what do you think pays for those jobs?

What about rural perceptions of being disrespected? Well, many people have negative views about people with different lifestyles; that’s human nature. There is, however, an unwritten rule in American politics that it’s OK for politicians to seek rural votes by insulting big cities and their residents, but it would be unforgivable for urban politicians to return the favor. “I have to go to New York City soon,” tweeted J.D. Vance during his senatorial campaign. “I have heard it’s disgusting and violent there.” Can you imagine, say, Chuck Schumer saying something similar about rural Ohio, even as a joke?

So the ostensible justifications for rural resentment don’t withstand scrutiny — but that doesn’t mean things are fine. A changing economy has increasingly favored metropolitan areas with large college-educated work forces over small towns. The rural working-age population has been declining, leaving seniors behind. Rural men in their prime working years are much more likely than their metropolitan counterparts to not be working. Rural woes are real.

Ironically, however, the policy agenda of the party most rural voters support would make things even worse, slashing the safety-net programs these voters depend on….

But can they also have a positive agenda for rural renewal? As The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent recently pointed out, the infrastructure spending bills enacted under President Biden, while primarily intended to address climate change, will also create large numbers of blue-collar jobs in rural areas and small cities. They are, in practice, a form of the “place-based industrial policy” some economists have urged to fight America’s growing geographic disparities….

But even if these policies improve rural fortunes, will Democrats get any credit?

Prof. Krugman is skeptical. Brian Beutler is too. But he has a suggestion:

By certain measures, we’re living through a brighter morning in America than the younger half of the population has ever experienced. Not by all measures. [But] unemployment has never been lower. The inflation crisis you heard so much about wasn’t imaginary, but it was more than offset for most workers by higher wages, and in any case, it appears to have ended months ago. A greater percentage of Americans have health insurance than ever before. And the economy is poised for huge investments in domestic manufacturing, infrastructure, and clean energy. 

Plug it all into some of the tidier theories of American politics, and you’d expect us to be living through an era of calm and good feeling, a fallow season for demagogues who fan mass grievances for personal enrichment and political gain.

And yet…. Right-wing madness doesn’t seem to have receded, at least as a temptation for Republican politicians….The reality of our strong economy has not defined perceptions of it, which have tended to resemble doom-laced political reporting and outright propaganda, rather than raw data gathered by government agencies and other researchers. A huge percentage of Americans believes that the country is in the midst of a recession. Inflation remained a major, stated concern for voters long after prices had stabilized….

The prevailing orthodoxy continues to hold that the best way to head off a MAGA takeover runs through the pocketbooks of Republican voters, or by conceding to their cultural grievances….

What if elections were instead about the things that most disgust voters about Republicans? The things that just cost Republicans so dearly in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and elsewhere? What if the best way to defeat the fascist threat isn’t with a bottom-up approach of deradicalization-through-industrial-policy, but a top-down approach of exposing and revolting against the GOP’s corrupt, medieval politics? Or at least, why not try both?

… In a world where concerted messaging can persuade most people that a good economy is actually bad, and where issue salience is often a function of passing propaganda campaigns and media fixations, it’s … strange to assume that Republican-coded cultural issues are the only ones that might preoccupy voters ahead of an election. Especially after 2022. I think we have enough experience by now to understand what MAGA really is, and how to make Republican politicians regret clothing themselves in it.

Back in 2015 and 2016 the centrist political establishment … were at pains to explain the effect D____ T____ had on his rallygoers—the way they’d thrill to his attacks on Mexicans and Muslims and others—as an artifact of their “economic anxiety.” Journalists needed a way to explain what everyone was seeing without appearing biased against Republicans. Conservatives wanted to paper over the pathologies of the GOP base for brand-management purposes. Progressives wanted to go to bat for the salutary effects of egalitarian economic policy.

I had this gag at the time that admittedly got a bit out of hand, where a T____ supporter, rich or poor, would do something capital-D Deplorable on camera, and I’d say he was simply anxious about wage competition from low-skilled immigrants or whatever. Point is, it was clear even then that the appeal was the fascism itself… Voters don’t dislike Democrats for principally economic reasons. They prefer Republicans because they are swamped with right-wing rhetoric and ideas and lies that they find appealing or presume to be true, and the best way to disrupt that dynamic is to alter the informational stew with new ingredients.

The principal reason to build a more egalitarian polity is that you think it’s important for people to lead fulfilling and secure lives….. If you want people to embrace the promise of liberal democracy, you have to persuade them of its inherent virtues, not fatten their wallets and hope they can be made to believe the extra cash came from liberalism. If you want voters to abandon politicians who are corrupt, dishonest, menacing, you have to convince them that their corruption and dishonesty and menace outweighs anything else about them that might seem appealing. You have to put real effort into making their fundamental faithlessness a liability for them. And we know voters will respond to that effort, because they just did [in the 2022 election].

Maybe the Biggest Secret in Politics

A Democratic strategist (they have one?) named Simon Rosenberg claims that “the most important, least understood story in US politics” is that the “economy does so well under Democrats and so poorly under Republicans”. He cites the following statistics:

16 years of Clinton and Obama yielded 34 million jobs

1 year of Biden yielded 6 million jobs

16 years of G. Bush, G. W. Bush and T____ yielded 1 million jobs.

40 million jobs added vs. 1 million? That sounded suspicious, so I found a chart based on data from the St. Louis Federal Reserve. It shows “job growth by U.S. President, measured as cumulative percentage change from month after inauguration to end of term” for presidents going back to Jimmy Carter. According to the chart, jobs increased by 33% during the Clinton, Obama and Biden years vs. 1% during the Bush, Bush and T____ years. 

Reagan had the best job growth for a Republican (although not as good as Clinton). But even if you go back 46 years and include Carter’s and Reagan’s numbers, there’s a stark difference:

21 years of Carter, Clinton, Obama and Biden: 45%

24 years of Reagan, Bush, Bush and T_____: 18%.


Yet if you were to ask voters which party does best with the economy, most would say the Republicans. They’re seen as the party of business and low taxes, despite the fact that they’re the party of Big Business and low taxes for corporations and the rich, which they always claim will improve the economy, but which doesn’t. For instance, they always say raising the minimum wage or raising taxes on the rich are “job killers”. The evidence shows otherwise: increasing the incomes of the working class and increasing taxes on the rich benefits the economy, since giving average consumers the ability to buy stuff increases the need for workers and taxing the rich allows the government to provide more services.

It may be hard to believe that voters are so wrong about the two parties. But here’s one reason why: Republicans have a powerful propaganda network and Democrats don’t. The Republicans have networks like Fox “News” and OAN, popular sites like Breitbart and the Daily Caller, and heavily-followed Facebook accounts, plus talk radio, all of which deliver a pro-Republican message, often in concert. The Democrats don’t have anything that organized or efficient. Most Democrats who pay attention to current events rely on corporate media, big organizations like the New York Times and CNN, that don’t want to seem too pro-Democratic.

Here are two examples of what the Democrats are up against. Some clown on Fox claimed that Democrats don’t really care about people who live in cities, because the 10 unhealthiest cities in America are run by Democrats:


But the list of cities Fox used referred to the 10 healthiest cities!


Meanwhile, the NY Times put a story on the front page suggesting the January 6th committee isn’t acting normally:

The House committee investigating the assault on the Capitol and what led to it is employing techniques more common in criminal cases than in congressional inquiries.

The story is accurate. Since T___ and his allies aren’t cooperating, the committee has been forced to be aggressive. The article suggests this is a risky move and might backfire. It’s not normal for congressional committees! What’s especially weird, however, is that, as an example of normal practice, the article ignores Watergate and Iran-Contra and uses the Benghazi attack. The Republican House committee that “investigated” Benghazi went on for months in order to push a non-existent scandal. Their behavior apparently seemed normal to the Times:

By comparison, the House select committee that spent two and a half years investigating the 2012 Benghazi attack issued just a dozen or so subpoenas — a small fraction of the number issued by the Jan. 6 committee so far — and made no criminal referrals.

The author James Gleick sums up:

Did anyone at the Times think for a second before including this Benghazi comparison? Why so few subpoenas? Maybe because, even though it was a sham, everyone cooperated (remember Hillary?) [testifying for 11 hours] Why  no criminal referrals? Maybe because THERE WERE NO CRIMES.

The Economy, the Virus and Us

Annie Lowery of The Atlantic says that economists have four major concerns regarding the US economy.

(1) The household fiscal cliff:  Government stimulus payments have kept the economy in fairly good shape this spring, despite massive unemployment. However, the stimulus is supposed to end a month from now. Republicans don’t favor renewing it. That will mean  “millions of families just keeping their head above water will sink”. Consumer spending will plummet.

(2) The great business die-off:  “This steep decline in consumer spending will hasten mass business failure… An estimated 100,000 small companies have shut permanently. On top of that, numerous businesses—airlines, restaurants, live-events businesses, hotels, private schools, oil and gas companies—face severe and stubborn slumps….Economists expect that 42 percent of people recently let go will not return to their former employers.

(3) The state and local budget shortfall:  Every state except Vermont is required to balance its budget, but “sales taxes, real-estate-transfer taxes, income taxes, fines and fees—they are all collapsing, leaving local governments with a budget gap expected to total $1 trillion next year. Without help from Washington, this will necessarily mean massive service cuts and job losses: namely, an estimated 5.3 million job losses.

(4) The lingering health crisis:  “The catastrophe of the American government’s management of the … pandemic …  has led to the unnecessary deaths of tens of thousands of people…. The country is reopening with the disease still spreading and maiming and killing, as several states experience a dramatic surge in caseloads. Never getting the pandemic under control means never unleashing the economy…. Ending the pandemic would have been the single best thing the federal government could have done to preserve the country’s wealth, health, and economic functioning. The Txxxx administration, in its hubris, obstinacy, and incompetence, failed to do it.”

“Congress could extend unemployment insurance, offer new help to flailing businesses, send monthly cash grants to poor families, offer fiscal relief to the states, and implement a nationwide test-and-trace program.” Or things may get a lot worse.

From Stat News:

The “respiratory” virus that causes Covid-19 made some patients nauseous. It left others unable to smell. In some, it caused acute kidney injury….The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention constantly scrambled to update its list [of symptoms] in an effort to help clinicians identify likely cases.

[But] in late January, … scientists in China identified one of the two receptors by which the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, enters cells. It was the same gateway, called the ACE2 receptor, that the original SARS virus used. Studies going back some two decades had mapped the body’s ACE2 receptors, showing that they’re in cells that line the insides of blood vessels — in what are called vascular endothelial cells — in cells of the kidney’s tubules, in the gastrointestinal tract, and even in the testes.

Given that, it’s not clear why the new coronavirus’ ability to wreak havoc from head to toe came as a surprise to clinicians. Since “ACE2 is also the receptor for SARS, its expression in other organs and cell types has been well-known”….

The assumption that infection would first and foremost cause respiratory symptoms was misplaced. In the week before they were diagnosed, Covid-19 patients were 27 times more likely than people who tested negative for the virus to have lost their sense of smell. They were only 2.6 times more likely to have fever or chills, 2.2 times more likely to have trouble breathing or to be coughing, and twice as likely to have muscle aches. For months, government guidelines kept people not experiencing such typical signs of a respiratory infection from getting tested.

Faced with a disease the world had never seen before, physicians are learning as they go. By following the trail of ACE2 receptors, they are more and more prepared to look for, and treat, consequences of SARS-CoV-2 infection well beyond the obvious.

What He Does and Doesn’t Have Going For Him

People who write headlines often do a crappy job. Here’s an example from The New York Times:

Even if presidents have less sway over the economy than is widely assumed, perception can be important.

The headline implies that the economy is just about perfect. It’s not. As Steven Rattner points out:

T—- promised growth of “4, 5, 6 percent”, a tax cut that would raise workers’ wages significantly [and pay for itself!] and new trade policies that would again make the United States a manufacturing powerhouse. None of those things has happened….

Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut explains the situation:

One of T—-‘s favorite tactics is taking credit for Obama’s economy. Democrats need to stop letting him get away with it. A quick thread debunking some of his favorite lies:

Job Creation:

Obama created 227K jobs a month in his last three years in office. In T—-‘s first three years, it’s only been 191K per month.

Job creation numbers were 20% higher under Obama during that three-year span.


T—- DOUBLED the budget deficit, creating over $3 trillion in new debt.

Where did all this money go? Mostly to tax cuts for corporations and rich people. But instead of boosting the economy, business investment has actually fallen since the tax law passed.


Real wages aka what you can buy for the amount of money you take home, are actually doing worse under T—-.

They increased just 0.8% since T—- took office, compared with 1.3 percent over a similar period under Obama.

Trade War

Trump’s self-inflicted trade war contributed to outright job declines last year in states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Indiana and New York.

Overall, the trade war with China cost America 450,000 jobs in 2019.

Obama inherited the worst financial crisis since the great depression and pulled America out of it.

T—- was handed a healthy economy and has made things harder for working families while juicing corporate profits.

Don’t let his lies try to tell you otherwise.

Paul Krugman provides needed context:

[It’s] worth talking about why the economy is growing. The answer is, it’s the deficit, stupid.

T—-‘s deficitpalooza is giving the economy as much stimulus now as it was getting in 2012, when the unemployment rate was 8%. Imagine what Obama’s economy would have looked like if [Republicans] and Very Serious People had let him run deficits that big.

And of course imagine if we were using that money to build infrastructure and help children, not give corporations more money to buy back their own stock.

[In 2009] some of us were tearing our hair out over the fact that the stimulus was obviously too small. But Obama and his inner circle insisted that it was inconceivable to [get around the filibuster by using] reconciliation to enact something bigger, because norms or something.

In the end Obama [and other Democrats] paid a heavy political price because recovery was too slow, thanks to inadequate stimulus; T—- is getting a dividend because nobody, including the bond market, actually cares about budget deficits. So many bad things have followed from Obama’s caution back then. The course of history could have been very different.

… Republicans hobbled the Obama economy in the name of fiscal responsibility, which they abandoned as soon as T—- came in. But how big a deal was that?

Absent [Republican] sabotage, we would have been down to 4% unemployment in 2014. Think how different everything would look if we’d done that.

Finally, a few words from Nancy Pelosi:

Under Obama…

  • Unemployment dropped from 10% to 5%
  • Stock market went from 6,000 to 18,000
  • Deficit was reduced by a trillion dollars
  • The US gained more than 14 million private sector jobs.

[T—-] did not inherit “a mess”, he inherited a momentum.