Where Are the “Reformish” Pols?

If you haven’t read Ryan Cooper’s piece from the May-June issue of the Washington Monthly, give it a gander when you get exhausted from reading about Benghazi! and the “IRS Scandal.” He’s done us the invaluable service of examining all of the conservative writers who have been touted in the last few months as promoting “reform” in the Republican Party, and providing some points of contrast and comparison.

But what I most like about Ryan’s piece is that he puts as much emphasis on the political influence–or the lack thereof–of these “reformish” conservatives as on the “ideas” or policies they are discussing. And it’s not just a matter of talking to Hill staff and assigning a rating for their apparent influence, either. When the “Democratic reform initiatives” began to get traction in the late 1980s, it wasn’t because Democratic pols were listening to “reformist” wonks and writers–it was because they were participating in and to a large extent leading these discussions. As Ryan notes:

It is easy, however, to exaggerate their influence. “There is a cultural gulf,” says John Feehery, a former staffer for Tom DeLay and Dennis Hastert, between the reformist writer-intellectuals, with their New York/Washington sensibilities, and Republican officeholders, with their base of voters in Texas, Kansas, and Georgia. The reformists “are speaking the language of policy,” notes Feehery, while the base “is speaking the language of hating Obama.”

I’ve already argued today that one of the byproducts of the current scandalmania that’s now gripping the conservative commentariat and the GOP could be a total loss of interest in any “rebranding” effort. The same fate could easily strike interest in “reformish” wonks and writers on the Right, who may soon be tempted to put big hatpins through their frontal lobes and join the feeding frenzy.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.