The pro-worker policy wonk who wants to save the Republican Party from itself.

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On an overcast day in Belleville, Michigan last autumn, Joe Biden made history. As striking United Auto Workers marched on 26 September, Biden appeared, becoming the first American president to join a picket line. With a UAW baseball cap slung low over his forehead, Biden used a bullhorn to tell the marching car workers, “You deserve what you earned, and you’ve earned a hell of a lot more than you’re getting paid now.” It was hailed in the media as a pivotal moment for pro-labour politics. Yet in the view of many American workers across the country, Biden might as well have stayed at home. Though the Democrats were once the party of the blue-collar worker, the majority of working-class voters are now firmly behind Donald Trump.

The Democratic Party bears no relationship to the actual interests or priorities of the union members that they’re supposed to represent,” says Oren Cass, a former adviser to the Utah senator Mitt Romney and a rising star in Republican policy circles. In the eight years since Trump first entered the White House, thanks largely to the support of the white working class, an entire conservative policy apparatus has emerged, designed to channel the momentum of that base into a governing agenda and even the future economic doctrine of the Republican Party. Cass is key among those who are shaping these policies.

Through American Compass, the pro-worker think tank he founded in 2020, Cass is attempting to advance policies that move the party away from Wall Street, market fundamentalism, free trade, globalisation and prioritising consumption over production. The Economist has called its agenda “a slaughterhouse for Republican sacred cows”.

Some of the policies sound downright Democrat, albeit with caveats. Cass supports expanding child benefits for parents (so long as said parents are working). Laws that protect organised labour should be strengthened (though the political power of the country’s existing unions, which Cass describes to me as “extremely unpopular”, should be curbed). Other ideas, however, sound as though they were ripped from a Trump rally speech, particularly those built around hawkishness on immigration, China and trade.

But Cass, 40, speaking over video link from his home in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, where he lives with his wife Kristine and their three children, suggests that Trump’s skillset doesn’t lie in the ideas. Rather, he is adept at smashing through the “ossified orthodoxy” of the GOP, which has created an opening. “Among the things that Trump doesn’t do is the actual intellectual foundations of policy development.” That is where Cass comes in.

Continue reading at the New Statesman
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