Published February 9, 2023
Beware, conservatives. President Biden is trying to steal your thunder when it comes to appealing to working-class Americans, as he showed in his State of the Union address this week.
If the GOP wants to win in future elections, it cannot let this happen. It must present its own viable blend of populism to counter Biden’s.
Biden’s brand of “America First” was evident throughout his speech. He highlighted his administration’s efforts to boost manufacturing in the United States and other issues important to U.S. workers, such as protecting government entitlement programs.
Conservatives should be responding with a united front. Instead, they are engaging in an increasingly acrimonious debate of economic policy. On one side there is the Old Guard: the free traders and neo-libertarians, allied with business interests, who largely don’t favor government economic intervention. On the other side are the Trumpists and populists who welcome the former president’s beliefs that pure free trade is outmoded; that immigration — especially illegal immigration — must be curbed; and that government intervention can help make the country more secure and its people more broadly prosperous.
Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, studies and provides commentary on American politics. His work focuses on how America’s political order is being upended by populist challenges, from the left and the right. He also studies populism’s impact in other democracies in the developed world.