Political Animal


March 06, 2013 11:09 AM GOP Pols Uninterested in Reform

By Ed Kilgore

Politico’s Jonathan Martin gets to a basic truth about the so-called “struggle for the soul of the Republican Party” underway that won’t be surprising to regular readers of this blog:

Conservative thinkers are increasingly agitated that, four months after a second straight presidential drubbing, GOP officeholders are not taking bold steps to bring a 1980s-style Republican platform into the 21st century.
Almost daily, there is a fresh op-ed or magazine piece from the class of commentators and policy intellectuals urging Republicans to show a little intellectual leg and offer some daring and innovation beyond the old standbys of cutting income taxes and spending. It’s not that the eggheads are urging moderation — it’s more like relevance. The standard plea: The GOP will rebound only when it communicates to working-class and middle-class voters how its ideas will improve their lives.
But there is virtually no evidence that these impassioned appeals for change are being listened to by the audience that matters — Republican elected officials. With few exceptions, most of the GOP leadership in Washington is following a business-as-usual strategy. The language and tactics being used in this winter’s battles with President Barack Obama are tried-and-true Republican maxims that date back to the Reagan era or before. And that, say the wonks, spells political danger and more electoral decline.

That is why the analogies being drawn between today’s Republicans and the Democrats of the late 1980s and early 1990s are just wrong. The desire to “reform” the Democratic Party (for better or for worse) by reconnecting it with the values and aspirations of middle-class voters was very much a project of Democratic pols. There were wonks who cheered the development, but not in much of a leading role.

Until a big, noisy faction of actual Republican elected officials arises that’s willing to challenge the outworn pieties of the conservative movement, the Republican “makeover” will represent nothing more than talk. Right now the only “rebels” in the ranks of GOP pols are those who think their party needs more RINO hunts and a greater turn in the direction of the Goldwater campaign of 1964, its eternal ideal.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Mimikatz on March 06, 2013 11:23 AM:

    Epistemological closure and safe districts have convinced Republican electeds that the public (at least that part that is relevant to them) agrees with the GOP. There is no incentive to change, really, as long as they are either convinced that they can win in 2016 with new packaging, or are content to have the House and maybe the Senate now and then. And they may well be. What incentive is there for the electeds to adopt ideas and programs they don't like anyway if their current positions got them successfully elected?

    The only people with an incentive to change within the GOP are those with national ambitions, or statewide ambitions in blue or purple states, and who listens to losers like that? The current electeds are those who, by definition, won with the existing formula, so why change? Especially if the only danger they face is from the Right?

  • c u n d gulag on March 06, 2013 11:25 AM:

    Republicans have allowed themselves to be painted into the corner they currently occupy, by their Manichean Christianist racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, and/or homophobic, "base."

    Hence, we get the usual idiocy, like the Republican House members who, yesterday, tried to bring up a bill banning Federal funding for ACORN - an organization that no longer exists, except in their fevered and fearful imaginations.

    What's next?

    A Republican House bill banning trading with the Soviets?

    A bill to round up the members of SDS - Students for a Democratic Society?


  • boatboy_srq on March 06, 2013 11:28 AM:

    Of course the GOTea isn't interested in reform. Unlike other parties, they're wedded to black/white, right/wrong views; reform would imply that somewhere in that absolutist perspective they were somehow incorrect.

  • Bokonon on March 06, 2013 11:56 AM:

    You won't change this dynamic until you change right-wing talk radio. And the behavior of right-wing moneybags organizations like the Club For Growth. And at the present, that is not happening. Instead, they are becoming more extreme.

  • davidp on March 06, 2013 12:15 PM:

    Uninterested in reform, yes, but many are also seemingly uninterested in winning. For many pundits, hosts, publishers of newsletters etc., conservatism is a money-making engine. The "no compromise" stance is better calculated to keep tempers high and the checkbooks open.

  • martin on March 06, 2013 12:30 PM:

    The GOP will rebound only when it communicates to working-class and middle-class voters how its ideas will improve their lives.

    So these pundits are urging the Pols to come up with better lies?

    mountains craturd says Captcha

  • kindness on March 06, 2013 12:40 PM:

    With Republicans it's pretty easy to see where their 'values' are. Follow the money of their funding.

  • gregor on March 06, 2013 12:46 PM:

    I don't care about what the Republicans are doing, for they are never up to anything for the country at large.

    I am, however, deeply concerned that Obama is still under the delusion that if he offers to drive his tank over the poor and the middle class the Republicans and the beltway crowd will give him the unalloyed applause that the President apparently continues to crave for.

    The praise by Graham et al. of his efforts to reach out to the self proclaimed and fraudulent moderate GOP senators is a very very bad sign.

  • Anonymous on March 06, 2013 12:52 PM:

    "The language and tactics being used in this winterís battles with President Barack Obama are tried-and-true Republican maxims that date back to the Reagan era or before." - Jonathan Martin

    I would say Obama's policies more closely mirror those of Reagan than the absolute rigidity of current GOP ideology.

  • ceilidth on March 06, 2013 1:35 PM:

    There's a basic difference between the Dems moving to the center and the Repugs following that model. The Dems were moving toward the majority of their voters. The majority of current Republican voters are Tea Party folks. The centrists left a while ago. There are still centrist politicians being elected on their ticket out of inertia but all the young ones are far right. The problem in the long run is that the electorate as a whole does not favor the far right.

  • PTate in MN on March 06, 2013 1:41 PM:

    The highest priority for Republicans continues to be tax cuts for the richest Americans and slashing social programs, and they have no interest in meaningful reform that might benefit Americans. They just want to win elections, and they realize that they may have to modify or disguise some of their most offensive attitudes to con the gullible. They are truly the party of "you can fool some of the people all of the time."

  • Doug on March 06, 2013 6:32 PM:

    "...GOP officeholders are not taking bold steps to bring a 1980s-style Republican platform into the 21st century." Jonathan Martin quoted by Ed Kilgore

    It's rather hard to bring a "1980s-style platform" into the 21st century what that 1980s platform represented an imaginary period 30 or more years in the past.
    Republicans, delusional since 1920...

  • bluestatedon on March 06, 2013 9:15 PM:

    One of the GOP's main problems is that "Conservative thinkers" is an oxymoron of the first order.

  • SqueakyRat on March 07, 2013 5:32 AM:

    The GOP won't change its line until the Big Money concludes that it will never win another national election with the Tea Party/Christianist/racist base hung around its neck.