Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 17, 2008

THE RNC'S THINK TANK.... I've argued a few times since the election that the Republican Party's intellectual bankruptcy compounds its electoral problems. The race to be the "party of ideas" is over; the GOP lost. When one of the top House Republican leaders wrote about the policy vision for the party's future, and listed three failed ideas from the '90s, it only helped reinforce the point this is a party lacking in substance and policy direction.

It appears that the party is at least aware of the problem (and admitting you have a problem is the first step). Ben Smith reports that the Republican National Committee is "building a new, in-house think tank aimed at reviving the party's policy heft."

The think tank will be called the Center for Republican Renewal, and it has been mentioned as part of RNC Chairman Mike Duncan's platform for reelection, but was begun shortly after the election as a new RNC office, separate from the campaign, a Republican official said.

Though Washington has many conservative think tanks, many inside the party and the conservative movement viewed November's failures as, in part, a product of stale ideas, and like the Democrats after 2000, some in the GOP have called for a revival of the conservative intellectual infrastructure.

This does not, at first blush, sound ridiculous. The party has gone years without a policy agenda, spending the last two campaign cycles in particular telling voters that they essentially just want to stop Democratic ideas. If the Center for Republican Renewal wants to craft a few ideas, and engage in a substantive policy discussion, it'd be a step in the right direction.

But I'd argue that this is a two-step process for the GOP: 1) decide that policy matters; and 2) actually come up with some policies that make sense and that voters might like. Republicans have, apparently, started to slowly come to terms with the prior -- as opposed to, say, bashing policy experts as pointy-headed elitists to be ignored -- but the latter is likely to be very difficult for them.

Why? Because their ideology puts them in a box. They want less taxes, less spending, and less government, which in turns leaves few options for innovation. Healthcare? People already have too much insurance. Global warming? If it's real, let the free market handle it. Energy? Tell Exxon/Mobil to just keep drilling. Recession? Let's have less capital in the system by cutting government spending.

Republicans are still brimming with ideas when it comes to the culture war -- I can hardly wait for the next vote on flag burning -- but they're tired ideas that even the far-right base finds dull.

To be fair, I think the party does have some genuine policy goals in key areas, but they're burdened by the fact that no one actually likes them. The party would love, for example, to privatize public schools and Social Security, but these are awful ideas that voters hate.

So what on earth can the Center for Republican Renewal do? I'm at a loss. So, I suspect, is the RNC.

Steve Benen 12:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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Won't they just do the same crap they did in the 18880s, 1920s, 1945-1960, and 1990s? I.e. wait until everyone is bored and repackage their ideas as NEW and IMPROVED, UNTRIED and IGNORED, and, my personal favorite UNFAIRLY MALIGNED BECAUSE OF THAT ENTIRELY REGRETTABLE ASSOCIATION WITH THAT SECRET DEMOCRAT HERBERT HOOVER?

Posted by: Jon Coit on December 17, 2008 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

So what on earth can the Center for Republican Renewal do?


They're going to find a way to put old sour vinegar into new bottles and tell everyone it's a cool refreshing wine-beverage. At least, I assume that's what the RNC is thinking as they set this plan in motion.

I wouldn't expect anything more from them, though. A committee set up by the RNC isn't going to be a vehicle for change. At best it will be a job opportunity for some newly graduated College Republicans who are looking for work and have the right connections.

Posted by: NonyNony on December 17, 2008 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

The race to be the "party of ideas" is over; the GOP lost.

Conservatives, in general, don't actually have "ideas." That's why they're "conservatives," and why we often call them "reactionaries." They simply react - usually negatively - to the ideas put forth or enacted by liberals.

In the best of worlds, conservatives can act as a useful brake when liberal ideas get too expensive, or start to look like social engineering of some sort. But to expect conservatives to actually generate ideas is, as they say, barking up the wrong tree.

Posted by: Jack Lindahl on December 17, 2008 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

The first order of business is to make throwing shoes at someone a capital crime.

Second order of business will be to rewrite history, making sure that the House of Bush is idolized for eternity.

Third order of business will be to allow creationist drivel to become the law of the land.

Heil and gallstone!

Moronica for morons.

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on December 17, 2008 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

Didn't Garry Trudeau coin "belief tanks" a couple years ago to describe the standard issue conservative/republican think tank.

My guess is the term will apply 100% to whatever vee-hikle they gin up to salvage their sorry butts. Much luck with that, guys.

Who's AEI tapping for guest speakers these days?

Posted by: Trollhattan on December 17, 2008 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

If you were going to design a conservative political party in the US (that wasn't identical with the Democratic Party), what would -you- do? I mean, I'd love to see a vibrant, honest conservative party. I just suspect that that party is the right wing of the -Democrats.-

Otherwise, barring some Christianist culture-war stuff, what do you have?

Posted by: gussie on December 17, 2008 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

There's always GOP-sponsored Constitutional amendments criminalizing flag burning, banning gay marriage, banning the use of the phrase "Happy Holidays." I'm sure some GOP footsoldier trying to make a name for himself will call for an investigation of Bill Clinton's ties to the State Department after one or two years.

What do you think the GOP will try to get named after George Bush? My vote is for the western edge of the Antarctic Ice Shelf -- it'll be gone in eight years.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on December 17, 2008 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

They have the Heritage, Cato, Hudson, etc. I dont see why they would need a new think tank.

Posted by: Jimmy on December 17, 2008 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

I think this post is right on. It's hard to be the party of ideas when your ideas amount to (pointing at the other guy) "he's wrong! he's always wrong! whatever he says is wrong! abortion! 911! god!"

RNC: stick your religion back into your pants, spend some time with the 82.8% of USians making less than $100,000 a year, and then come back to me with some ideas. Or at least some new slogans.

Posted by: Personal Failure on December 17, 2008 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

Since our current Republican "conservatives" are hard-core reactionaries (see: Bush, George W.; Cheney, Dick), the last thing they are about is new ideas. They are about rolling back progress or, failing that, maintaining the status quo.

Reactionary "new ideas" can only be about marketing campaigns for the same feudalist, robber-baron policies they've always had. Getting someone to write about "a revival of the conservative intellectual infrastructure" is just part of the latest campaign.

Posted by: Moi on December 17, 2008 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

So what on earth can the Center for Republican Renewal do?
Pretty much what last year's rebranding initiative did. Pretty much what their attempt to mobilize the netroots did.
Other than enabling the kleptocracy that ran our nation into the ditch the Republicans do have the problem of saying one thing and then doing the other for so long that they don't even know what their ideas are. It will take more than another addition to the echo chamber to re-invigorate their party.

Posted by: Dennis-SGMM on December 17, 2008 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

1) decide that policy matters; and 2) actually come up with some policies that make sense and that voters might like.

Here's my revisions, in italics:

1) Decide that policy matters.
2) Decide what are the most important problems that we're facing.
3) Come up with some policies that address those problems.

My new (2) would put a crimp in GOP 'thinking' for some time. The things they really consider problematic (like workers getting a decent share of the pie) aren't exactly problems to most people. So the solutions they come up with don't exactly match up to the problems people have.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on December 17, 2008 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK


Republicans just need to continue to go back to their core beliefs:

1) A governance theory that government is bad, therefore we should not govern.

2) An economic theory that the problem with the economy is that the super-rich do not have enough money.

3) A regulatory philosophy that markets should regulate themselves and all will be well.

4) A foreign policy based upon preemptive war and global domination.

5) A belief that torture is bad unless it is us doing it.

6) A belief that it is not a crime if a republican president does it.

7) A belief that the government should stay out of everyone's life, except for their sex lives and their reproductive decisions.

8) A belief that only Republicans can be Christians.

If Republicans could 'market' war with Iraq like they were selling toothpaste, why should they not be able to sell the same old crap! They just need a better marketing campaign.

When the corporate media echo chamber and the Amerikan sheeple fail to react to Cheney's admission that he was party to torture, why the hell should anyone believe that they won't positively react to a better marketing campaign by the rethugs in the future?

Posted by: AngryOldVet on December 17, 2008 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen wrote: "So what on earth can the Center for Republican Renewal do?"

Two things:

1. Find new ways to lie and cheat their way into power.

2. Once in power, find new ways to steal from the American people to enrich their ultra-rich cronies and financial backers.

The present-day Republican Party is not really a political party any more in the normal sense of the word. It is an organized crime syndicate and its only "policy ideas" are blatant corruption and criminality.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on December 17, 2008 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

Whatever happened to Republicans like Al "Senator Pothole" D'Amato? He rode potholes and Israel all they way to Washington. A real bread and butter district man. Never missed a photo op back home at someplace or another to remind people who their daddy was.

Speaking of New York, you know they have a charm school for NYC taxi drivers. They have found it helps the tourist trade when taxi drivers are more polite. The GOP really needs to go back to basics -- learn their salad forks from their dessert forks, say please and thank you. The RNC should provide scholarships for their members to attend that NYC taxi driver school. It's a start, anyway.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on December 17, 2008 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

I bet they come out with a new twist on the old formula of eliminating taxes, regulations, and gays.

Posted by: JoeW on December 17, 2008 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

I think that's too smug by half. Dems only won this election because the economic meltdown really started picking up in the last 2mths of the election cycle, i.e. it became big enough to drown out the GOP/MSM narrative of Dems being weak on defense and family values. If the meltdown had started even 3-6mths later the cocky whackjob would be getting ready to move into the VP residence right now.

It's an unfortunate fact that a very large portion of the US electorate has the memory of an incontinent Pomeranian, evident by the fact that they've fallen for the same GOP propaganda tactics for past 3 decades.

The next 4 yrs. (at least) are going to be very rough (possibly very very rough), despite being cushioned by massive gov't spending. So when the cocky whackjob rears her well-coiffed head in 3 years and says "Morning in America, stop the spendthrift Dems wasting your money, we need GOP values to bring prosperity back", absent a crisis people will fall right back into their std. thought patterns and Dems will be hard pressed to come up with a response. And that's even if there aren't any more terror attacks on US soil - if there are it will be even worse.

The key challenge is going to be how to keep the framing on repairing GOP damage and incompetence, because there isn't going to be a hugely positive Dem record to run on by 2012.

Posted by: quietpc3400 on December 17, 2008 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

As bad as things have gotten over the last eight years, one can only imagine how bad it would be if the Republicans hadn't been able to cut taxes for rich folks, start a needless war in Iraq, tap our phones and email, and allow us to invest our retirement savings in Ponzi schemes.

Posted by: AJB on December 17, 2008 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

Motorola to freeze U.S. Pension & suspend matching 401k contributions.

I have been saying on the threads here for a few days that this is what the corporations are doing, and they are hiding assets in the Cayman Islands to cheat the treasury of tax revenues.

I've said, they are threatening to not fund pensions & medical payments if they can't pay 5.25% tax.

Posted by: annjell on December 17, 2008 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

imagine that. "think" and "RNC" in the same sentence.
You have come a long way baby.

Posted by: glichte on December 17, 2008 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK


Well put -- the GOP has operated like an organized crime syndicate. Tentacles everywhere.

You state what I was saying when news of the K St. "Purge" Project first broke five-six years ago. One by one the non-profits and lobbying firms got muscled, just like the small businesses up and down Third Avenue.

Remember when that Michigan Representative Nick Smith hesitated on the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill and Hastert and Delay held the vote open long enough for someone to approach Rep. Smith to offer money for his son's campaign?

How about the HUD secretary who prevented critics of Bush from getting HUD contracts?

Is Jack Abramoff (or now perhaps Bernie Madoff?) the Meyer Lansky of the Bush years?

Posted by: pj in jesusland on December 17, 2008 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

Two words: Wingnut welfare.

Posted by: Gregory on December 17, 2008 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

Why? Because their ideology puts them in a box. They want less taxes, less spending, and less government

It's much worse than that. Their "ideology" is a pack of lies. It's way past time that these principles be attributed to them. They've never adhered to them. No Republican Congress, Senate or President has proposed a smaller budget than the previous year's. When they cut taxes, while not cutting spending, they are not only deferring taxes rather than eliminating them, but also, because of the interest involved, spending more than would be spent if their budgets were fully funded.

They don't believe in smaller government, as evidenced by any number of intrusions from wiretaps to limits on abortion rights. Among their other lies is the professed belief in free markets. In fact, they favor government subsidized oligopolies.

It's well past time to stop repeating these lies.

Posted by: jayackroyd on December 17, 2008 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

I think the GOP should do a major overhaul of themselves but hire a DEMOCRAT to do it. The GOP keeps putting lipstick on a pig. They support incompetant, divisive, ignorant leaders (BUSH! and Co.) and use silly, divisive, ignorant tactics to 'sell' their candidates so I've stopped taking them seriously.

I think if the GOP was run by a conservative leaning DEM who understands that competance and judgement are important (among other things) they'd get their credibility back, maybe.

If there was such thing as a conservative Obama that could be intelligent, competant and not race-bait and would have logical, even ideological but not divisive discussions about policy and could rid itself of the bankrupt souls that inherit that party now.

Take any broad value that is important to a conservative and PROPERLY apply it and you'd be surprised how people might embrace it. Unfortunately, they sell out to other interests, agendas that really aren't conservative and expect Americans to be stupid or ignorant enough to buy it but only the ignorant 'conservatives' appear to buy into this.

For ex, They could maintain their core 'values' and still not discriminate, ignore the Constitution, make excuses for incompetence (personal responsibility-supposedly a conservative ideal). I could go on but I'm wasting my time with these misguided sh**heads.

That would be enticing if they actually did something like this but they didn't get their butts kicked as bad as they should have, given their stupid, misguided campaign (they wouldn't see it that way but that's the problem) so they aren't going to make any major changes any time soon.

Posted by: Joe on December 17, 2008 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

They could take a stand against illegal immigration, a true nod to the public interest that opposes the creepy collaboration of right-wing labor busters and left-wing reflex minority indulgers.

Posted by: Neil B ☼ on December 17, 2008 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

The GOP's problem stems from the fact that no-one in the party has the guts to tell the most extremist branches of the party's base, "no."

In fact, the base has been shrinking and moving to the right until it's entirely made up of Authoritarians. These are people who believe:

(1) Inequality is the natural order of things: there are always going to be (indeed, must be) haves and have nots.

(2) There is a sinister group out there that is trying to destroy morality/decency/our way of life.

(3) This enemy -- Muslims, Liberals, Seculars, whatever -- must be destroyed.

(4) This battle must be waged by a strong visionary leader in authority.

(5) Anyone who opposes this leader hates America, the troops, God, etc. They are either part of or working in collusion with "them."

(6) Anything the authority does to fight the enemy is right and just, even if it is illegal. And anything "they" do is wrong. (If the authority bombs the enemy's orphanages, well, they had it comin').

The point is, this base is not driven to advance an agenda -- only to stop someone else's. I can't even say they see the world in black and white. They see black and non-black. If given the chance, they couldn't even define their utopia, except to say what wouldn't be part of it (regulations, taxes, gays, etc.).

In times of crisis (such as 9/11), reasonable people may adopt the authoritarian stance, but 20% of the population holds those views continuously.

And if this is the base that the GOP candidates must pander to in order to pass the primaries, after that their only choice for the general election is to try to stoke fear and hatred in the general populace. Hence the "guilt by association" tactics that worked 2000 & 2004, but failed in 2006 & 2008.

Posted by: UncaPaul on December 17, 2008 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

The most innovative Republican strategy may be the recent one of looting the treasury of $15 trillion dollars for Republican bankers to hold so that Obama and the Democrats have nothing to spend and the economy suffers, thus enabling Republicans to sweep back into power in 2010.

Posted by: Luther on December 17, 2008 at 6:21 PM | PERMALINK

"...1) decide that policy matters;..."

Not an option. Policy doesn't matter to the Party's constituents, so it can't matter to the Party.

The other point, which should be obvious, is that the Republican base still makes up AS NEAR AS MAKES NO DIFFERENCE to half the country. John McCain got 46% of the vote. It is not possible to govern a country that contains 46% of irreconcilables.

Posted by: Frank Wilhoit on December 17, 2008 at 6:43 PM | PERMALINK

Old GOP material: God, guns, gays.

New GOP material: God, gays, guns.

What's not to love?

Posted by: independent thinker on December 17, 2008 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

"...1) decide that policy matters; and 2) actually come up with some policies that make sense and that voters might like..."-Benen

Yeah, if they could do that they'd be democrats and we have enough DINOs already.

Yep...here it comes...The People's Obstructionist Party (POP) use "think tanks" to disguise their only mission ...to protect the holdings and the business of the wealthy and the multinational corporations. They have cultivated the poisonous people with Rush, Coulter, Hannity, Oreilly etc to keep them in power as they slowly bring about the fascist corporate state attempted during FDR's reign with COL. Smedley Butler who exposed them. They have been using 30yrs of Reaganomics and the military industrial complex while avoiding taxes and profiteering greatly from war supplies. We are at the breaking point and that is why 20,000combat troops have been deployed to the south. They are very close to reaching their objective began so long ago.

Policies, plans, ideas...ha, what a joke. Government cannot function as set up by our founders as long as we keep electing them to power. The greed of these people has made it clear there are only two choices for our nation...A Social Democracy or a Fascist Corporatocracy. Which side you are on depends greatly on how much money you have or how fundamentaly religiously controlled versus how charitable and liberal you are. But as for now get used to POP blocking all liberal legislation in the senate and the right wing media propaganda machine Clintonizing or demonizing the Obama administration. That's the POP's only goal. So far they are still a minority.

Posted by: bjobotts on December 17, 2008 at 8:18 PM | PERMALINK

Here's an idea: try not to suck at actual governing.

Posted by: craigie on December 17, 2008 at 11:36 PM | PERMALINK

The Republicans neither want nor need new ideas.

What they want and need is new threats.

So it's not nearly as insoluble a problem as people are making about. They're already tight with the national security apparatus, which hires professionals to think creatively about possible new threats to the U.S. (and possible new threats the U.S. can pose to others, but that's another story). Although it hardly takes a professional to dream these up - for the most part you simply recycle the old threats and affix different labels.

So pretty soon there will be some new rogue state or attack vector the threat of which can be hyped through the media, which is always looking for stories like that - fear sells. The accusations that the Dems don't understand the threat and/or are willing to sell the country out to it will follow close behind.

Stir in a few thumb-suckers to assert that the Dems are too beholden to their liberal base to be able to address the threat seriously, and pretty soon every "reasonable" person has an obligation to vote Republican. The only part of this that requires any sort of finesse is getting across that by "liberal base" you mean "the n*gg*rs."

Add manufactured scandals as needed to get you over the top.

Posted by: foxtrotsky on December 20, 2008 at 8:47 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, I almost forgot: in terms of threats, China is a growth stock.

Posted by: foxtrotsky on December 20, 2008 at 8:51 AM | PERMALINK



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