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Americans who feel left behind in this economy helped Donald Trump win the election last week. They heard his battle cry promising to put their America first. Soon we'll find out whether Trump governs as a populist champion or as a more traditional Republican when it comes to the economy. NPR's Chris Arnold reports.
CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: Many voters in the Rust Belt swing states of Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan who had voted for Barack Obama last week voted for Donald Trump, and some said a big reason was that they felt left behind and disconnected from the more prosperous parts of the country. In his victory speech, Trump continued to reach out to them.
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DONALD TRUMP: The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.
ARNOLD: But now that Trump is the president-elect, will he be able to actually deliver on his promise to help those people? Right now behind the scenes, the Trump transition team is of course looking for good policy advisers. We called up labor economist Richard Burkhauser of Cornell. He signed a petition against Hillary Clinton's economic plan during the campaign, and it turns out Trump's people just reached out to him.
RICHARD BURKHAUSER: Some people who asked me if I was interested in applying for a job.
ARNOLD: And what did you say?
BURKHAUSER: It's a very exciting possibility.
ARNOLD: Burkhauser's a free market economist who tends to vote Republican, and he says with Republicans controlling the White House, the Congress and the Senate after years of frustrating gridlock, he thinks he could actually get important things done to both boost economic growth and...
BURKHAUSER: And I think it would be extraordinarily exciting to be part of an administration that uses Republican ideas to do something for workers in the middle who have not enjoyed the benefits of economic growth in the last 20 or 30 years.
ARNOLD: But could you do that just with Republican ideas?
DAVID AUTOR: I don't think so.
ARNOLD: David Autor's an economist at MIT known for his groundbreaking work on international trade with the U.S. and China, both its benefits and its devastating impact on some Americans. He says, look; Trump won with a fiery, populist, kick-the-bums-out-of-Washington campaign that promised to help working- and middle-class voters. But...
AUTOR: I think the Republican Party has done extremely little for them.
ARNOLD: Autor says he's not registered with any political party, but he says if Trump really wants to help the people in the Rust Belt, people left behind, this is not easy. And he needs to reach out beyond traditional Republican economists because he says they mostly focus on cutting taxes and regulation.
AUTOR: Yes, I mean the irony is that, you know, if the Trump administration were looking for expertise in policy to improve the living conditions and working conditions of less-affluent Americans, they would look to a lot of Democratic and left-of-center scholars.
ARNOLD: So Autor says it might be a moon shot, but if Trump can draw from the best ideas on the left and the right, then you might see a really effective mix of policies - tax credits for the working class that conservatives support, help with education and health care costs - more traditionally liberal ideas. Now, from his victory speech, Trump appeared to be casting a pretty wide net for advisers.
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TRUMP: For those who have chosen not to support me in the past, of which there were a few people...
TRUMP: I'm reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country.
ARNOLD: Still, nobody from the Trump campaign has called David Autor. And even if they did, Autor says he's among many economists who would have a hard time forgetting Trump's campaign, which he saw as marked by race baiting, misogyny and xenophobia.
AUTOR: I think many of us who would be happy to support a sensible policy mission would still be extremely hesitant to be a part of that team knowing the moral depths he doesn't hesitate to sink to.
ARNOLD: Meanwhile, as Trump builds his team, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren will be watching. Warren fired a letter at Trump this week, criticizing his transition team picks so far as too tied to Wall Street and big business.
Warren said if Trump doesn't fulfill his promise to help working families rather than the rich and powerful, she says, quote, "I will track your every move, and I will remind Americans every day of the actions you take that fail them." At the same time, Warren also offered to help Trump find qualified advisers. Chris Arnold, NPR News.
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