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National Review: The GOP Needs to Expand Its Base


Half of all Americans now claim they don’t belong to either political party, according to a new WSJ poll. With the Obamacare “debacle” following close on the heels of the government shutdown, disillusionment with Washington is running high. In light of this, both parties need to do some serious soul-searching.

Doing a bit of that soul-searching on the right, National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru and Rich Lowry explain what was wrong with the shutdown strategy, but argue against despair:

There is no alternative to seeking to expand the conservative base beyond its present inadequate numbers and to win the votes of people who aren’t yet conservatives or are not yet conservatives on all issues. The defunders often said that those who predicted their failure were “defeatists.” Yet it is they who have given in to despair. They are the ones who entertain the ideas that…engagement in politics as traditionally conceived is hopeless; that government programs, once begun, must corrupt the citizenry so that they can never be ended or reformed; that the country will soon be past the point of regeneration, if it is not there already.

On the one hand, it’s healthy that at least some conservative insiders are trying to think these issues out; both parties, and the country at large, stand to benefit from a stronger, more innovative, and more tactically sophisticated GOP.

On the other hand, the biggest problem on the right at the moment is the disconnect between its thinkers and its politicians—a “brain-body gap.” None of the smart new ideas from the thinkers ever seem to filter down to the doers.

Would-be reformers looking to see how innovative center-right policy ideas can make it into official party platforms should look to Australia: the story of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s generous parental leave program is a good example of how the process should work.

Within our own borders, there have been some encouraging signs lately of GOP politicians floating new ideas or shifting rhetorical gears in the ways the party’s thinkers have long advocated. What remains to be seen is whether anything will come of it—and whether post-blue model thinking will follow a similar pattern on the left.

[Image of GOP elephant from Shutterstock]

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  • Reticulator

    Instead of worrying about what the GOP needs, how about worrying more about what the country needs?

  • DDoSCapitol

    As I stated at NR in response to the authors previously:

    Standing athwart history shouting “what do you want us to give you?” is a poor rallying cry.

    Buckley’s NR helped change the electorate and empower the anti-statist Right.
    The Democrats post-Reagan succeeded in re-shifting the pendulum back to the left.
    Now, instead of advancing ideas and arguments to reinvigorate the Right once more, the present Republican leaders, and the NR authors, ask us to accept the public school indoctrinated electorate of Obama as a fact of nature and merely learn to live within its dictates.

    NR and today’s Republican Party seems overly concerned with being “positive” when saying “No” to big government – and sometimes your own constituency – is the heart of Conservatism.

    For example, RomneyCare is not a positive Conservative alternative approach to healthcare reform. It is me-too-ist constituent servicing straight from Karl Rove’s permanent majority playbook.

    Emulating Australia’s “generous family leave” enactments as the NR authors counsel is likewise constituent servicing, not Conservatism.

    “Comprehensive immigration reform” is a child of the Bush/Rove GOP, mid-wived by Chamber of Commerce crony capitalism and quickened by the phony “crisis” of a “broken system” which in fact was “broken” only by decades of unconstitutional bi-partisan refusal to enforce its rules.

    Conservatives shouldn’t jettison first principles because the present electorate, indoctrinated by our Progressive public schools, demands interventionist government and “we need their votes.”

    The NR authors, echoing the conventional “wisdom” which has prevailed through sheer panic after Romney’s defeat, seek to lead us down a road to perdition that ends with being David Cameron’s Tories.

    If that is all we can hope for in this “changing electorate” why not take the Blue Pill now ?

    My prescription for the Republican Party would be to embrace grassroots “tea party” movements and libertarians who believe in truly limited government and free markets. New blood, new ideas. Not ennui and malaise.
    To borrow another axiom of old-school strong conservatism If we choose the authors’ suggested path, we become an echo, not a choice.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Via Meadia should recognize it is now carrying the establishment Republicans water. As Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru are members of the establishment Republicans, not the base, and their opinions on the base are wrong. The TEA Party conservatives are the grass roots base of the Republican Party, and their stated strategy from the beginning has been to take over the Republican Party from the inside. This strategy is fully on track, as the screaming, whining, and backstabbing from the establishment Republicans seeing their heads going on the chopping block proves. The recent government shut down theater was a TEA Party TACTIC to prepare the battlefield for the 2014 primaries, not bad strategy. The tactic generated millions in donations to TEA Party organizations and politicians, a mailing list of 2 million who signed a petition supporting defunding Obamacare, and forced the establishment Republicans to expose themselves as liars, uncommitted to fighting for fiscal responsibility and small government as they have repeatedly promised. It was establishment Republican leadership that submitted to a humiliating surrender (what losers), the TEA Party conservatives stood firm. Establishment Republicans now realize they are fighting to retain power (it’s all they care about), and Karl Rove and other establishment Republicans have all stated they intend to use their crony capitalist money to crush the TEA Party candidates in the primaries. We in the TEA Party welcome the challenge, as the establishment Republicans have always been the first target on our hit list.

  • Ooga Booga

    Realizing that I’m disillusioned with the Democrats but wouldn’t last 5 seconds as a Republican, I hereby announce the formation of the Monkey Party.

    • Kavanna

      How about a Monkeying Around Party?

      You underestimate yourself. Tea Partiers have strong views, but are looking for converts anywhere they can find them.

  • qet

    Sorry, but I’m with the defeatists on this one and I agree with the three commenters below. Does no one remember Tom DeLay’s (I think it was Tom DeLay) “K Street Project”? The problem with the GOP as established party is that, like a union, it puts its leadership’s interests above those of the workers. That National Review has matured into a comfortable bastion of the mainstream GOP simply underscores the point. The initial forays by Cruz & Co. may be clumsy and bombastic and ineffective, but you have to start somewhere. As things stand now the established GOP is not significantly different from the established Democratic Party.

    • Kavanna

      The GOP establishment has experience and competence with running government more or less as it is. It has tactics on its side.
      But it has no strategy. That lies with the Tea Party, which knows things that the GOP establishment would rather not think about.

  • foobarista

    At the end of the day, the problem is the “thinkers” are policy types, who start with a fundamental premise that if only you have the right people and the right policies, you can achieve utopia. In this sense, they agree with “progressives” – just disagree on mechanics.

    On the other hand, a large group of Americans, particularly but not exclusively in the Republican Party, have become disillusioned with the whole idea of “better living through bureaucracy” approaches to government, and want to focus on ways to reduce the size of government and re-establish the notion that the Constitution is about limits on government.

  • Bruce

    The Republican party needs to be taken over by those that are considered “radical.” Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Rand Paul and others are the future if there is to be hope. Does anybody really believe that incrementalism, where the Repubs hold back the rate of growth of government a little bit will fix this? Lowry and the crew at NR are very comfortable schmoozing with the establishment, but we need to implode the system the establishment has given us. It’s not fixable in small steps and compromising with libs won’t get it done. Coulter’s calling for a Republican majority, even if some are libs, is a failed recipe. We had that during Bush 43 and the spending increased at huge rates. We have to start almost from scratch. There will be some election losses along the way. It is a price that must be paid. If the country is going down, we might as well go down fighting.

  • ljgude

    One of the great things about Via Meadia is the idea of the Blue Model. It gives us a way to talk about the mid century liberalism of FDR and the Keynesians and pretty much the system on which everyone in the developed world runs. But most of us here believe it is breaking down. It certainly is in the US, but a lot of it is government incompetence. This administration and its predecessor has been a race to the bottom. It might be instructive for us conservatives to work out why a major country like Germany can have a larger welfare state and low unemployment. Nonetheless, the Democrats are wedded to the Blue model. All Joe Biden had to do was roll his eyes at Paul Ryan to beat him in their debate. That is because the Democrats are the party of the status quo and it is just common sense to see that in terms of the Blue Model that Ryan is just an idiot policy wonk. And that’s our problem. The only people actually seeing our problems and looking for new ideas are Republicans. We are a long way from working out what new approaches are going to be needed. WRM has a lot of ideas and so do readers here. To me the bottom line is that we have a long way to go before we have real solutions.

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