The Republican Reformers Explain Themselves

The Republican Reformers Explain Themselves

The Republican Reformers Explain Themselves

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 14 2010 11:43 AM

The Republican Reformers Explain Themselves

ENGLEWOOD, Col. -- I'm here for an event with Michelle Obama and Michael Bennet, and I notice that David Frum, Reihan Salam and Ross Douthat have all followed up on my piece about their 2007/2008 advice for GOP reform. Frum's the latest :

Between 2001 and 2007, Republicans gained something they had not hadfor any comparable length of time since the 1920s: the presidency, plusmajorities in both houses of Congress. The results? Not so good.
 
Thisfailure of governance seems to demand some rethinking. "Say it louder,"at least in my book, does not qualify as rethinking. Yet what's the TeaParty answer to the failures of the George W. Bush years? Any ideasthere to get average incomes rising again? To balance the budget of theUnited States once the recession ends? To accelerate recovery from therecession? To defend the nation at affordable cost? To improveeducational outcomes? To protect the natural environment? To deliver abetter deal to the bottom two-thirds of the American population?

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Yes, here's the nub of the issue. When a party loses there are two reform factions -- the We Were Wrong faction and the Double Down faction. And obviously the Double Dow faction won in 2008, because the Republican base really believed that it lost power because it failed to cut taxes and spending. I think that one factor in the abandonment of Frum/Salam/Douthat arguments is that the Republican political leaders who had an incentive, or a record, to argue the other side of this -- that would be Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, who saw the governing and political benefits of "compassionate conservatism" -- saw where the energy was and moved into flat-out opposition mode. But it's by no means settled that the Republican party can govern successfully without compromising with the welfare state. It sounds right on the campaign trail -- support the Constitution! Repeal the progressive era! Cut entitlements that we can't afford! Have a weekly vote on which programs to defund! -- but Frum et al are right to keep questioning whether it will work. There's a very likely scenario in which Republicans are handed power by angry voters who are surprised when the party makes real cuts, extends tax cuts and... available jobs don't immediately start surging.

David Weigel is a reporter for the Washington Post.