Oren Cass is a pro-union conservative. If such a thing sounds strange to you, you’re not alone. We’re used to thinking about the Democratic Party as representing the working class, while Republicans are better known for tax cuts for the wealthy and free-market economic policies that hurt laborers.
But the data suggest a more complicated picture. The 2020 election provided the most recent evidence of an educational partisan divide: 63% of white voters without a college degree cast a ballot for President Trump, according to exit polls, while Vice President Joe Biden made headway with college-educated whites in crucial battleground states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and even Georgia, where affluent and highly educated suburban voters flipped the state blue for the first time in three decades.
For a while now, Republicans have been increasing their share of the working-class vote — more through default than anything else. But Cass is part of a small yet growing cohort of conservatives seeking to give that default intellectual and moral heft.
A former adviser to Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, Cass, 37, was a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, before founding his own organization, American Compass, earlier this year. Cass’s 2018 book, “The Once and Future Worker,” argued that a strong labor market was crucial to supporting strong families and communities. He followed it up with a recent OpEd in the Wall Street Journal headlined “America Needs a Conservative Labor Movement.” He lives in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts with his wife and three young children.
We spoke on the phone last week. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.