Recently, while reading a new biography about the life and contributions to conservatism of my dear friend, Stan Evans, by Steven Hayward, I was enlightened as to the extent of the leg work that both he and William Rusher did to explore the possibility of running a new third-party team of Ronald Reagan and George Wallace in the 1976 presidential election.
Hayward’s well-researched and perfectly toned book, “M. Stanton Evans: Conservative Wit and Apostle of Freedom,” discussed a March 1975 meeting in Alabama at which Evans and Rusher conducted “sort of an interview” with Gov. Wallace as due diligence toward this improbable ticket.
Though the ticket never materialized, thankfully so for Reagan, my interest was piqued to better understand the foundational beliefs that made Evans and Rusher believe in a Reagan-Wallace ticket. So, I looked deeper into the work of William Rusher.
After a couple of interlibrary loan requests, I obtained a copy of Rusher’s book, “The Making of the New Majority Party,” published in 1975. Here he explains in detail the need for a new third party because, in his view, the old guard Republican Party had failed to accept, fully, the conservative agenda while the Democratic Party had moved further away from the limited-government Southern “Dixiecrats,” who held traditional, working-class, blue-collar values. The new Democrats advocated larger government programs and interventions to solve economic and societal problems.
Rusher authored a complete chapter, appropriately titled “The Opportunity,” outlining core concepts behind his belief in the need for a third party, the “Independence Party,” and all the constituents of which it would be comprised. The chapter is chillingly prescient, as if Rusher were writing about the forces that elected Donald Trump in 2016 — yet more than 50 years earlier.
Rusher argued that the Independence Party would ultimately absorb the Republican Party and assume its rightful place as the second major party in the country. It would maintain its stability because of the actions of the Democratic Party, which supported an ever-growing government and, through its policies, would create a new America with two distinct economic classes: producers and non-producers.
Rusher was quick to point out that this new party would not represent the old categories of “haves and have-nots,” but, rather, would consist of an ever-increasing, ostracized, and burdened working class—the producers—that carried the economy. In contrast to the working class were the non-producers, defined by Rusher as “converts” to the liberal worldview that is “militantly secular, heavily guilt-ridden, and perhaps even subliminally suicidal…the new liberal verbalists will be centered in state and federal bureaucracies, the principal media, the major foundations and research institutions, the nationwide educational establishment, to run the United States for the benefit of interests conformable to that worldview.”
Rusher goes on to write, “for example, these liberals are obsessed with need to rectify, by federal intervention (and federal largesse), the injustices historically perpetuated by whites against the black population of the country, as well as other wrongs allegedly committed against a whole series of newly discovered and acutely self-conscious ‘minorities.’” Again, yes, this was all written in 1975.
Keeping in mind the two contrasting economic classes offered by Rusher, we are now realizing the many short and long-term economic and social impacts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Of these concerns, probably the most disturbing for me as an economist (and for all businesses in the United States) is the “vanishing” labor force and all subsequent problems associated with it. This has been never more obvious than in the single industry sector where virtually all Americans interact on a weekly, if not daily, basis: fast food restaurants.
Nothing besides mask mandates magnified the aggravation of everyday Americans like the poor service, long lines, limited hours, limited menu, etc., experienced at these restaurants throughout the country. But what emerged from the terrible fast-food experience were everlasting questions that still ring true: (1) Where are the workers? and (2) How are these people getting the money to live?
The answer of course is that due to federal and state government assistance, these workers disappeared and instantly discovered they could live even better on unemployment and COVID-19 benefits than they could if they showed up to work. So, in short, with no financial incentive to work and enjoying a long period of government benefits, this portion of the labor market fell in love with getting paid for doing nothing, which is understandable for them—who wouldn’t want money for no effort?—but angers those principled Americans who do work hard, pay their taxes, and just want to eat a Big Mac with quick, efficient service at a low price during their lunch break.
Though the pandemic caused many other negative economic consequences worthy of discussion, I would argue that COVID-19 showed us more clearly than ever what “living off the government” means. Herein lies an opportunity for the Republican Party to control a narrative that reaches across religion, race, sexual orientation, and other divisive categories to bring together Rusher’s “producers” as the new majority political party.
In my mind, clear, understandable, and moving messaging has always been the downfall of the Republican Party. Democrats successfully use emotion and heart to reach voters and turn them into “converts” who believe so much in their noble causes that they forsake their own individual rights for the party, which purports to improve this country by spreading a collectivist worldview.
COVID-19 has given all Americans perhaps a clear view of the most basic founding principle outside of “In God We Trust”—the freedom to work each day to earn a living. The actions of the Democratic Party over these past two years have substantiated what Rusher plainly stated in 1975, namely that Democrats seek to have an economic class of liberal “converts” who accept and then actively support non-producing government bureaucracies at all levels of government at the expense of individual rights and freedoms.
The Republican Party must dust off the old Rusher playbook and use it to build a new and encompassing base. How? By focusing its messaging and mission on a simple and straightforward choice for voters: Do you want to belong to and support the party of producers or non-producers? The answer to that question should be clear.
Dr. Judson Carter Edwards is dean of the Sorrell College of Business at Troy University.