GOP Pols Uninterested in Reform

Politico‘s Jonathan Martin gets to a basic truth about the so-called “struggle for the soul of the Republican Party” underway that won’t be surprising to regular readers of this blog:

Conservative thinkers are increasingly agitated that, four months after a second straight presidential drubbing, GOP officeholders are not taking bold steps to bring a 1980s-style Republican platform into the 21st century.

Almost daily, there is a fresh op-ed or magazine piece from the class of commentators and policy intellectuals urging Republicans to show a little intellectual leg and offer some daring and innovation beyond the old standbys of cutting income taxes and spending. It’s not that the eggheads are urging moderation — it’s more like relevance. The standard plea: The GOP will rebound only when it communicates to working-class and middle-class voters how its ideas will improve their lives.

But there is virtually no evidence that these impassioned appeals for change are being listened to by the audience that matters — Republican elected officials. With few exceptions, most of the GOP leadership in Washington is following a business-as-usual strategy. The language and tactics being used in this winter’s battles with President Barack Obama are tried-and-true Republican maxims that date back to the Reagan era or before. And that, say the wonks, spells political danger and more electoral decline.

That is why the analogies being drawn between today’s Republicans and the Democrats of the late 1980s and early 1990s are just wrong. The desire to “reform” the Democratic Party (for better or for worse) by reconnecting it with the values and aspirations of middle-class voters was very much a project of Democratic pols. There were wonks who cheered the development, but not in much of a leading role.

Until a big, noisy faction of actual Republican elected officials arises that’s willing to challenge the outworn pieties of the conservative movement, the Republican “makeover” will represent nothing more than talk. Right now the only “rebels” in the ranks of GOP pols are those who think their party needs more RINO hunts and a greater turn in the direction of the Goldwater campaign of 1964, its eternal ideal.

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.