SUBSTANTIVE…. Former Rep. and DLC Chair Harold Ford was on MSNBC’s “Hardball” yesterday, and Chris Matthews brought up the leaders in the Republican Party. According to a transcript from my reader Hoosier Paul, Ford had this to say:

“I think it also speaks to the schism and the tension in their party right now. They can’t decide if they want to go the Paul Ryan/Eric Cantor route, which seems to be slightly more substantive and mindful of the fact that the country is looking for answers, and substantive answers at that, or if they want to go the Rush Limbaugh/Palin, and some would argue, even now, the Rick Perry approach, which borders on asinine….”

I can appreciate where Ford is coming from here. In fact, there’s probably a few competing factions in the GOP, at least with regards to the future direction of the party. Rush Limbaugh recently told the CPAC audience that the right should “stop assuming that the way to beat [the left] is with better policy ideas,” pointing to the Republican contingent that isn’t especially concerned with “substantive answers.”

What I find noteworthy about Ford’s remarks, though, is that he named Reps. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Eric Cantor (R-Va.) as examples of those who take policy matters seriously. These two, Ford suggested, are the kind of lawmakers who can give the Republican Party some substantive heft.

The problem, of course, is that if Ryan and Cantor are going to be the substantive backbone of the GOP in the coming years, the Republican Party’s future is likely to be quite bleak.

Ryan, for example, recently insisted that the Obama administration’s proposed budget is “worse than Europe’s” budget (as if the continent has just one). He also proposed a truly insane five-year spending freeze to respond to the global economic crisis and described a massive tax cut for the wealthy, dropping the top rate to 25%, as “progressive.” In fact, Ryan helped craft the House GOP caucus’ budget alternative, which tried to lower the deficit by passing trillions of dollars in additional tax cuts. On taxes, spending, Social Security, Medicare, energy policy, Ryan’s plan wasn’t just wrong, it was demonstrably ridiculous.

And by all appearances, Cantor is slightly worse, not only endorsing Ryan’s approach — including the belief that the way out of a recession is deep federal spending cuts — but also taking the lead in opposition economic recovery efforts in February. Best of all, this week, Cantor’s office unveiled a Republican “solutions center” for Americans concerned about job losses, the housing crisis, and their savings. Every question led to the same response: tax cuts, spending cuts, or tax cuts and spending cuts.

Ryan and Cantor are prepared to take the lead on crafting “substantive answers” for the Republican Party? Here’s a challenge for them: name one.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.