Thursday, January 24, 2013

Can the GOP Rebound?

Ross Douthat says yes based on historic precedent.

In modern G.O.P. history alone, the Goldwater rout was swiftly succeeded by the Nixon realignment, and the various Gingrich-era debacles by the rise of George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism.” We are only one presidential term removed from the latter rebranding, and the idea that it cannot happen again (albeit hopefully along somewhat different lines) seems ahistorical and naive. Yes, obviously, the Republican Party might remain a mess for years to come. But liberals who expect that continuing conservative dysfunction will help cement Obama’s legacy are betting on a trend, not counting on a certainty.

Daniel Larison says not so fast.

The problem for the GOP, as it is for all defeated, flailing parties, is that its leaders are sometimes oblivious to the party’s most serious weaknesses, or else they mistake those weaknesses for strengths. Hard-line foreign policy is one example of a clear liability for the party that its leaders believe to be one of their great advantages, which is one reason why it never even occurs to them that they are losing current and possible future supporters by hanging on to failed policy ideas. (Another is that they can’t or won’t acknowledge that the policies failed.) Far more politically damaging for Republicans are the national party’s lack of any relevant economic policy agenda and its cynical, selective interest in fiscal responsibility. This is the “pro-growth” party that presided over wage stagnation and anemic job growth in the 2000s, and this is the party supposedly horrified by deficit spending while being historically far worse at running up deficits when in power.

The weaknesses don’t stop there. The GOP wants to be perceived as the party of limited, constitutional government, but it just went through the better part of a decade expanding the size and intrusiveness of government, and it supported practices of illegal detention and illegal surveillance to boot. With depressingly few exceptions, the party hasn’t repudiated any of the latter, and there appears to be no urgency in reversing or undoing any of the damage done by these things. Having trashed almost everything that their party was supposed to represent, many Republican leaders act as if the worst thing that ever happened during the Bush years was a profusion of earmarks. Until they stop kidding or lying to themselves about what happened the last time there was unified Republican government, it’s doubtful that the public will be willing to entrust them with that much power.

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