The GOP policy problem

Ezra Klein has an excellent point to make about Republicans and policy this morning. He’s writing about how many policies Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich once supported that turned out to be Kenyan socialism once Barack Obama adopted them. Jonathan Cohn has yet another excellent example: Newt was an enthusiastic backer (with John Kerry!) of comparative effectiveness research — that is, having the government collect data about which medical treatments actually work. That was way back in 2008, but as Cohn points out, after it became part of ACA a few months later it immediately became evil socialist rationing, something that Gingrich can now get in trouble for with conservatives on the campaign trail.

Klein concludes that the reason that Romney and Gingrich are stuck with having supported so many now-forbidden policies is because they are “wonks.” I think that’s too strong, however, or perhaps not strong enough, depending on your perspective. Klein provides a long list of Republicans who once supported an individual mandate on health insurance, but surely they weren’t all wonks? Nope. Most of them were just Republicans following the standard Republican line of the time, a line that was good enough until Barack Obama and the Democrats adopted a kitchen sink to health care reform and tossed in any decent idea that they could find (remember all that rhetoric back then about all the Republican-sponsored ideas included in ACA? It was true!).

No wonder that House Republicans are spending much of their energy repealing non-existent regulations about farm dust or affirming the US motto. Or why Romney’s entire foreign policy program appears to be a pledge not to go on an “apology tour” that never happened. It’s a lot easier to be certain that you always completely oppose the president’s program when you write your own fictional version of the president.

But Klein’s conclusion is right on the mark:

At the end of the day, the GOP will nominate somebody for president…The bigger problem will be if that individual wins. At that point, they’ll need actual solutions for the problems facing the nation. But the Republican Party has ruled out an individual mandate to help with health-care reform, a cap-and-trade program to mitigate global warming and speed the development of renewable energy options, tax increases to help reduce the deficit, and stimulus to help boost the economy. That leaves a potential GOP president with a lot of problems to solve, but few workable policies with which to solve them.

Well, they still have tax cuts for rich people.

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.