THE BLOG
07/28/2016 01:17 pm ET Updated Jul 29, 2017

Hillary's Blue Collar Strategy

How can Hillary Clinton counter Donald Trump's appeal to disaffected working class white men in the nation's Rust Belt?

One of the ways Trump attracted support from that cohort was by quoting Secretary Clinton out of context. He made it sound as though she was calling for an immediate shutdown of the coal mining industry.

In fact, she was referring to a gradual employment phase-out from a heavily polluting, fading coal industry to a more job-intensive, renewable energy-based economy.
Candidate Clinton ought to repeatedly assure out-of-work coal miners that as president, she would make certain they would be aided in making the transition. Unemployment insurance would be available while they participated in a federally subsidized training course to prepare them for a new energy paradigm.

Clinton should frame her environmental pitch and other campaign proposals in economic terms to beat Trump at his own game.

To further calm the unemployment fears of the disgruntled white working class, she should emphasize her determination to establish a national infrastructure program. That program would create many immediate opportunities to build, repair, and maintain bridges, roads, transportation hubs, water systems and park facilities.

A proposal to establish a federal Infrastructure Bank to finance projects around the country is contained in the Democratic National Platform and presumably would be high on a President Clinton's priority list. Even if the Republicans retained control of both Houses of Congress, it is doubtful they would dare stonewall a democratic administration's infrastructure bill as they did with President Obama. After all, infrastructure is a major component of their 2016 national agenda as well, and repetitive obstructionism could conceivably damage their political future.

Clinton can sell the gradual replacement of fossil fuels by renewable energy on economic grounds. It is not just that the latter is more job intensive, sustainable, cleaner, and from an employment perspective, much more difficult to be outsourced. Regulations mandating that renewables constitute a modest percentage of the energy mix have a handsome consumer economic benefit in the form of health savings. Such a mandate, which Clinton is sure to promote, works out to approximately $1.60 on an eighty-dollar-a-month electricity bill. This is hardly a prescription for bankruptcy at any income level, but it does more than pay its freight in the form of lower medical bills.

Clinton should make the same argument in behalf of environmental regulation. To assuage blue collar workers, she can cite government projections that anti-pollution regulations will cost households an extra 45 dollars annually by 2020, again a pittance even for most low-income families when compared to the significant monetary benefits from reduced medical costs.

In short, if Clinton can convey a convincing economic message to people feeling left behind, Trump will have to look elsewhere than the Rust Belt for validation.