The RNC’s think tank

THE RNC’S THINK TANK…. I’ve argued a few times since the election that the Republican Party’s intellectual bankruptcy compounds its electoral problems. The race to be the “party of ideas” is over; the GOP lost. When one of the top House Republican leaders wrote about the policy vision for the party’s future, and listed three failed ideas from the ’90s, it only helped reinforce the point this is a party lacking in substance and policy direction.

It appears that the party is at least aware of the problem (and admitting you have a problem is the first step). Ben Smith reports that the Republican National Committee is “building a new, in-house think tank aimed at reviving the party’s policy heft.”

The think tank will be called the Center for Republican Renewal, and it has been mentioned as part of RNC Chairman Mike Duncan’s platform for reelection, but was begun shortly after the election as a new RNC office, separate from the campaign, a Republican official said.

Though Washington has many conservative think tanks, many inside the party and the conservative movement viewed November’s failures as, in part, a product of stale ideas, and like the Democrats after 2000, some in the GOP have called for a revival of the conservative intellectual infrastructure.

This does not, at first blush, sound ridiculous. The party has gone years without a policy agenda, spending the last two campaign cycles in particular telling voters that they essentially just want to stop Democratic ideas. If the Center for Republican Renewal wants to craft a few ideas, and engage in a substantive policy discussion, it’d be a step in the right direction.

But I’d argue that this is a two-step process for the GOP: 1) decide that policy matters; and 2) actually come up with some policies that make sense and that voters might like. Republicans have, apparently, started to slowly come to terms with the prior — as opposed to, say, bashing policy experts as pointy-headed elitists to be ignored — but the latter is likely to be very difficult for them.

Why? Because their ideology puts them in a box. They want less taxes, less spending, and less government, which in turns leaves few options for innovation. Healthcare? People already have too much insurance. Global warming? If it’s real, let the free market handle it. Energy? Tell Exxon/Mobil to just keep drilling. Recession? Let’s have less capital in the system by cutting government spending.

Republicans are still brimming with ideas when it comes to the culture war — I can hardly wait for the next vote on flag burning — but they’re tired ideas that even the far-right base finds dull.

To be fair, I think the party does have some genuine policy goals in key areas, but they’re burdened by the fact that no one actually likes them. The party would love, for example, to privatize public schools and Social Security, but these are awful ideas that voters hate.

So what on earth can the Center for Republican Renewal do? I’m at a loss. So, I suspect, is the RNC.