Two years after being tossed out of power at every level, it’s about to waltz right back in, kicking aside the corpses of Democrats foolish enough to go along with the designs of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. This is good news for most conservatives. It’s slightly worse news for a smaller group of conservatives—namely, the ones who spent the end of the ’00s explaining why a Republican comeback like this was not really possible. ~Dave Weigel
I realize the article is over a week old by now, but there were a few things I wanted to say about it and about some of the follow-up posts. Obviously, it’s true that “reformist” conservatives did nothing to facilitate Republican gains in this year’s election, but what is equally true and not as clearly stated in Weigel’s article as it might be is that Republican gains are not driven by popular support for a positive Republican agenda of any kind. Neither are they being driven by an ideological rejection of the administration’s agenda. One can defend or mock the “Pledge to America,” and one can sympathize with or scorn Tea Partiers, but neither of them has much to do with reviving GOP political fortunes.
The reality is that Republican gains this year are the product of immense economic discontent and anxiety to which few conservatives have plausible answers. One doesn’t have to like the policy recommendations of “reformist” conservatives to acknowledge that they have been just about the only ones on the right trying to provide those answers. Their answers have tended to dominate discussions of reforming conservatism because they’re the only ones actively engaged in the conversation. When the dust settles and Republican office-holders are looking for advice on policy and legislation, “reformists” will win the day for lack of serious competition.
If the main observation of “reformist” conservatives is that Americans, including most Republicans, are comfortable with the existing welfare state and want their government doing more to alleviate that discontent and anxiety, that is pretty hard to contradict. As I have hinted at before, there is probably no worse time for an agenda of severe austerity and budget-cutting than in the wake of one of the worst recessions in the last century, and to the extent that conservative activists genuinely want to pursue an agenda of austerity and budget-cutting they need to understand that there will be no political rewards for their efforts. If the “reformist” proposal is that Republicans need to adopt policies that attempt to alleviate economic discontent and anxiety, one would think that their proposal would be taken more seriously now than it was before the bursting of the housing bubble, the financial crisis and the recession. One might say that the incoherence and fiscal irresponsibility of the “Pledge” are acknowledgments from the Republican leadership that the reformists have a good idea of what the public will and will not tolerate.