View all Events

The Working Class Republican Ronald Reagan and the Return of Blue-Collar Conservatism

Monday June 2017


Henry Olsen Ethics and Public Policy Center

Like Donald Trump, Ronald Reagan led a party wracked by years of infighting; saw many traditional Republicans desert him; and prevailed because he attracted millions of Democrats and independents. Unlike Trump, Reagan started his presidency by establishing clear priorities in his opening speeches and followed those pronouncements with specific legislative proposals.

Reagan's priorities moved quickly through Congress. By August 1981, his tax cuts were signed into law, despite the GOP's narrow Senate majority and a Democrat-controlled House. Will Trump transform America? Or will the Washington swamp swallow him up?

To avoid the latter, argues Henry Olsen in The Working Class Republican: Reagan and the Return of Blue-Collar Conservatism, Trump—and the GOP—must understand how Reagan won broad support for his pro-growth, limited-government agenda: by communicating a vision for America that enjoyed, and enjoys, strong support beyond traditional conservative voters. It is a vision, says Olsen, that sees government as a danger but not as an enemy; a government that is neither hands-off nor providing hand-outs, but offering a hand up.

Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. A former president of the Commonwealth Foundation, he has also served in senior leadership roles at the Manhattan Institute and American Enterprise Institute. Olsen earned his B.A. from Claremont McKenna College and J.D. from the University of Chicago.