Waiting For Righty

It’s always good to see Paul Krugman confirming one’s arguments, as he did yesterday in a devastating column about the phony “reforms” going on in the Republican Party, as represented by phony reformer Bobby Jindal.

But it’s even more interesting to see a bona fide conservative journalist singing the same tune. The Washington Examiner‘s Byron York attended the RNC winter meeting in Charlotte, and found little evidence of any intention among “reformers” of changing the party’s ideology or policy positions:

[N]obody at the winter meeting had any illusions that 80’s-style Republican success is even on the horizon for the party. But even though everyone realized the gravity of the situation, there were still questions, as the members left Charlotte, about how the GOP will try to solve its problems. Will it enter a period of fundamental self-examination? Or will it decide that its main difficulties are in communications and messaging, and focus on superficial changes in hopes of winning future elections?

The answer: Don’t look for fundamental self-examination. Certainly the party’s leaders are talking about serious change. But the conclusion that emerged from the three-day meeting in North Carolina is that the party by itself cannot make fundamental changes when it comes to the stands Republicans take on some of the nation’s most important and divisive issues. The central GOP can improve its technology, its communications strategy, its get-out-the-vote efforts, its engagement with minorities. But a new Republican vision for the future, if there is to be one, will be left for a future Republican candidate to shape.

York goes on to quote Republicans comparing their plight to that of Democrats in the 1980s, followed by the suggestion that it took a presidential candidate–Bill Clinton in 1992–to convince voters the party had changed.

But this is, of course, a circular argument. Presidential nominees do not come out of nowhere, and do not nominate themselves for president. The very movers-and-shakers who were talking to Byron York in Charlotte will have a significant impact on who has the credibility to run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, and who passes the party’s various ideological litmus tests. If the litmus tests are themselves a big problem for the party, as most of us outsiders think they are, then somebody has to relax them before the Electoral Savior of the GOP can spring to life.

And how realistic, by the way, is it that this candidate-created magic will occur any time soon? York reports that Bobby Jindal, for all the adulatory press he got in Washington for his Big Speech in Charlotte, did not exactly wow the room. Calling people “stupid” while confirming their stupid policy positions as “principled” is not necessarily a formula for success. But it’s not clear there is one in a party that fundamentally doesn’t want to change.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.