Noah Millman says George Packer has it wrong, that the GOP is not, in fact, going to have a McGovern moment anytime soon. I think these are good observations:
The Presidency of George W. Bush hasn’t been mentioned much on the campaign trail this season, but that doesn’t mean his policies have been repudiated by the various contenders for the nomination – particularly not with respect to foreign policy and the ongoing “War on Terror” – with the exception of Ron Paul. The same can’t entirely be said for domestic policy – there has been some sniping at TARP, some criticism of the level of spending, but nothing resembling a sustained critique – except from Paul. If anybody fits the McGovern mold this time around, it’s Paul, not Gingrich.
This is an underappreciated point. Can you find a single significant point on which Romney, Gingrich, or Santorum differ substantially from George W. Bush? It’s amazing. If Bush were considered a successful president, they would be bringing him up all the time. That they do not, even as they have an incumbent Democrat they deride as a failure, tells you that they know Bush and his legacy are poison. And yet, they may not believe in Bush, but they sure believe in what he stood for. And so does the GOP base, evidently.
Regardless of who the GOP lost with this year, I wouldn’t expect a profound soul searching. The Democrats had to lose a run of five out of six Presidential elections over two decades to thoroughly remake their party. If you want to know what will likely follow a Romney loss, take a look at what followed Dole’s loss in 1996.
Regrettably, this is probably true. I really did think after the failed Bush presidency and the Obama defeat of McCain, the GOP would do the soul-searching thing. Didn’t happen. Not even close. Maybe it’s just me, but whenever I hear Romney speak, it’s nothing but recycled GOP boilerplate. I cannot imagine why anybody who isn’t already a highly partisan Republican would vote for him, except that he’s Not Obama (which, let me be clear, might be reason enough). My point is that the GOP is not offering a credible vision of the future. Nobody wants Newt because they think he has good, innovative ideas for America’s future. They want him because they think he can tear Obama’s heart out with his teeth. That is hardly what future GOP victories are built on, especially when the oldsters start to die off.
Daniel Larison also has smart things to say about the GOP future, should Obama win a second term:
Something that makes it difficult to analyze the possibility of “an ideological reckoning with the base” is that there is no consensus among conservatives about what that reckoning would look like and what it ought to produce. More “reformist” moderates and conservatives in the GOP think that this reckoning would involve driving Tea Partiers and populists to the margins and developing a more “centrist” governing agenda, whereas many movement conservatives see Bush-era accommodations with the welfare state and so-called “big-government conservatism” as the things to be repudiated and resisted in the future. Dissident conservatives see both groups as too accommodating of the security/warfare state as well as the welfare state. The desired “reckoning” would look different for each group, and there are enough contradictions in Gingrich and Romney to provide justifications for each group to claim that their view has been vindicated by an electoral defeat.