WHEN CONSERVATIVES BELIEVE THEIR OWN (MISGUIDED) HYPE…. Democrats tend to needle Republicans with a fairly important detail: the GOP doesn’t have a policy agenda. It wants power largely to prevent Democrats from acting on their policy agenda, but when it comes to substance and crafting a coherent policy vision, the GOP comes up empty. As Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) recently conceded, he finds “plenty of slogans on the Republican side, but not very many ideas.”

Jonah Goldberg thinks the “party of no” strategy has been a great success for Republicans, but suggests it’s time for the GOP to “call Obama’s bluff and offer a real choice.”

My personal preference would be for the leadership to embrace Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s “road map,” a sweeping, bold and humane assault on the welfare state and our debt crisis. Doing so might come at the cost of trimming the GOP’s victory margins in November, but it would provide Republicans with a real mandate to be something more than “not-Obama.”

Kevin Drum seems ready to leap through his computer monitor.

I swear, I would pay cash money if the Republican leadership would promise to actually do this. Goldberg thinks that liberals aren’t popular? That’s peanuts. If Republicans made a serious run at passing Ryan’s road map the party would end up just slightly more popular than the Taliban. I think there would literally not be a single demographic or interest group in the entire country still supporting them. Even the tea partiers would start pretending to be Democrats. Hell, they’d probably take up the cause of repealing the 22nd amendment and allowing Obama to be elected president for life. […]

So I dare them. I double dog dare them. Let’s hear about how you’re going to cut federal spending by a trillion dollars over the next five years and by a third over the next 50. Details, people. Let’s hear ’em. Make my day.


It’s hard to overstate how right Kevin is. Congressional Republicans refuse to put forward a substantive policy agenda, not because they’re just too darn busy, but because they know it’s very likely voters would absolutely hate it. In particular, Ryan’s “road map” — eliminate Medicare, privatize Social Security, huge tax cuts — was so transparently ridiculous that the House GOP leadership went out of its way to not endorse it.

But this goes well beyond Ryan’s plan. Note that would-be Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) sat down with the Washington Post recently, and refused to give any details about how Republicans would govern. It’s not a mystery why — he lacks Goldberg’s confidence in the popularity of right-wing proposals.

During the debate over health care reform, House Republicans swore for months that their alternative package was on the verge of being released. GOP leaders delayed it until the last possible moment, and prayed no one paid attention to it, because it was truly laughable. Or how about last year’s Republican budget proposal — which managed not to include any actual numbers?

Goldberg wants Republicans to “offer a real choice” to voters? That’s a fine idea for a party with a) a coherent vision; and b) the courage of its convictions. There’s no reason to think the Republican Party has either.

That said, Goldberg does raise one fair point: if Republicans run and win without presenting an alternative agenda, they’ll have no mandate if they’re successful at the ballot box. The vote in November will reflect disappointment with the status quo, but it won’t be an endorsement of the GOP’s ideas.

If Republicans want a mandate, they’ll have to present a meaningful, detailed agenda to the public for scrutiny. If they do, I’ll match whatever Kevin’s willing to pay.

Steve Benen

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.