May/ June 2013 Reformish Conservatives

Meet the handful of conservative writers who are suggesting, respectfully, that the GOP change its policies.

By Ryan Cooper

Quote: “Glenn Beck … is good for the country because he gives the small fraction of cable-watching American adults who are seriously alarmed by the threat of communism taking hold in the United States the sense that they are being listened to, and my instinct is that this will keep them from embracing more extreme views.”

Reformist score: 7

Influence inside GOP: 5

Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper


  • reflectionephemeral on May 06, 2013 9:15 AM:

    Josh Barro has gotten more strident of late too. "Republican engagement with health policy is 100 percent cynical. And if conservatives who write about health policy for a living arenít cynics, they should be far more exasperated about that fact than they appear to be."

    Maybe that counts as restrained because he didn't write the more general, still accurate, "Republican engagement on all domestic and foreign policy is 100 percent cynical."

    Douthat & Salam's reformist bona fides may well have been cemented with "Grand New Party"; they were thrown away by 2009, as they failed to engage with GOP behavior in the real world. They'd written a few years before, in their "Party of Sam's Club" article in Weekly Standard, that "Mitt Romney has proposed in Massachusetts that health insurance be made universal by making it mandatory. Allowing individuals to forgo coverage encourages the young and healthy to live dangerously, giving them a free ride on the public purse when things go awry, and making health care more expensive for everyone else. If you expect government to step in when the going gets tough, you have an obligation to make a contribution." As that policy was decried as socialist fascism by their co-partisans, they lacked the courage of someone like David Frum (who noted that flipping out and shrieking about "death panels" was rather a poor substitute for talking about real-world policy issues). Douthat and Salam held their tongues, wrote gingerly about the issue, and shifted focus from pressing policy challenges. (Douthat wrote a book about how America was more Christian in the 1950s).

    The reason the GOP can't reform is because it no longer involves any policy views; it's an attitude, a projection of resentment onto out groups, and onto government if it is perceived to be assisting out groups. Any conservative policy can instantly and effectively be bashed as unconstitutional tyranny (see, e.g. RomneyCare). Every Republican politician fears losing a primary to some Christine O'Donnell or Richard Mourdock (whose successful, unpatriotic ads attacked Sen. Lugar for cooperating with Democrats to curtail the spread of loose nuclear weapons). So Republican politicians don't bother to propose policies. The closest they get is Paul Ryan-style, back-of-the-envelope fantasies. If you criticize those attitudes or proto-policies, well, that's just proof you're not really One of Us after all.

  • toowearyforoutrage on May 10, 2013 12:14 PM:

    "By 1992, a former DLC chairman, Bill Clinton, won the office."

    with 43% of the vote.
    And 48% in 1996 despite a ROBUST economy.

    The DLC was effing disastrous and it took 14 years to undo the damage of the "New Democrats".

    Howard Dean reminded Democrats of the days before Reagan when we actually WON sometimes. Result? 60 vote majority and universal healthcare.

    The Democratic reform of the reform in 2006 yielded a president that won majorities of the American public BOTH times.

    That said, Democrats DO engage in navel-gazing and sometimes it's productive. Republicans find self-doubt, and introspection anathema. Pundits urging them to repudiate ANY of their platform have an uphill battle.

  • jw on May 10, 2013 6:21 PM:

    I'm curious why there aren't more women on this list.

  • Kal Lis on May 13, 2013 9:26 PM:

    I'm surprised Conor Friedersdorf didn't make your list.

  • JK74 on May 22, 2013 8:25 PM:

    tooweary: So if Bill Clinton only won 43% of the vote, why wasn't GHW Bush re-elected? And if he got less than 50% of the vote in 1996 (actually 49.2%, according to Wikipedia), why wasn't Bob Dole president? Look up "Ross Perot", if you've forgotten. While you could make a case that Perot cost Bush the '92 election (just as Nader cost Gore election in 2000), it's much harder to argue that for '96. And even so, Clinton won more votes than any other individual candidate in both years - which can't be said of GWB in 2000.

  • harvey on May 25, 2013 12:03 PM:

    It's always amusing to read what the hard Left thinks conservatives should be doing. ;-)

  • harvey on May 25, 2013 12:10 PM:

    Seriously though, you all should consider defining "conservative" as we conservatives do, and not as you do, and not as the various faux conservatives do. That will improve your analysis some, and you won't be publishing lists completely unusable as anything other than confirmation of the Left's epistemic closure.

    That would imply that multiple names should be removed from your list, including Frum, Douthat, Brooks, etc. Yes, they are not with you lefties all the time, but they are almost never with we conservatives, if ever.

  • dougmuder on May 28, 2013 8:31 AM:

    @harvey: If the authors didn't expand the definition of "conservative", there wouldn't be any reformers to write about.