Can Republicans survive an undereducated electorate?

On two fronts, and from two different political directions, the lack of education of the American voter is cited as a factor in the country’s direction today.

Compare, for example, this NPR piece with what we learned in the ’60s from our politicians, that education — more of it — was the way we’d raise ourselves and our country from whatever problems we had.

And so our parents worked an extra shift in the factory, so respecting education as a way to give us a better life than we had.

And it worked. Sort of. The sons and daughters of my industrial hometown went off to college, never went back home, leaving our parents to live out their years in cities with closed factories and dashed hopes.

Today, my hometown is fertile ground with a new wave of pandering politicians targeting their message to the despair and hopelessness that’s left in communities just like mine.

There was nothing wrong with yesterday’s blue-collar workers; they wanted what’s best for their children. By contrast, judging by NPR’s report on Donald Trump’s support yesterday, today’s version has plenty of resentment for the kids that were sent off for some fancy learnin’.

In recent years, the correlation between party ID and educational attainment has grown. Essentially, the education gap has morphed into an education gulf. White women with advanced degrees are now one of the most faithful Democratic subgroups. According to data from the Pew Research Center, 62 percent are Democratic or lean Democratic.

In the 2012 election, there was a 30-point margin between how whites with a postgraduate degree voted compared to how whites with no college degrees voted.

But a GOP voter today is more likely to be white and working-class than a Democratic voter — and they still hold more political power than hyper-educated white voters. So the candidate who can connect with them has an edge in the GOP primary — even though it might hurt in a general election.

In today’s New York Times, David Brooks calls for a “Republican conspiracy”, challenging Republican state and local lawmakers to save their party while they still can.

Years ago, reform conservatives were proposing a Sam’s Club Republicanism, which would actually provide concrete policy ideas to help the working class, like wage subsidies, a higher earned-Income tax credit, increased child tax credits, subsidies for people who wanted to move in search of work and exemption of the first $20,000 in earnings from the Medicaid payroll tax. This would be a conservatism that emphasized social mobility at the bottom, not cutting taxes at the top.

Maybe it’s time a center-right movement actually offered that agenda.

And maybe it’s time some Republicans took a stand on what is emerging as the central dispute of our time — not between left and right but between open and closed. As the political scientist Matthew MacWilliams has found, the key trait that identifies Trump followers is authoritarianism. His central image is a wall. With their emphasis on anger and shutting people out, Trump and Cruz are more like European conservatives than American ones.

Governing conservatism has to offer people a secure financial base and a steady hand up so they can welcome global capitalism with hope and a sense of opportunity. That’s the true American tradition, emphasizing future dynamism not tribal walls. There’s a silent majority of hopeful, practical, programmatic Republicans. You know who you are.

Please don’t go quietly and pathetically into the night.

Maybe it’s time for them to be more like the factory workers of the Greatest Generation.