John Cassidy thinks the Republicans will have to lose a third consecutive presidential election before they will make any major changes:
The two-party system is too well established, the G.O.P. is too entrenched at the local level, and history demonstrates that a third successive defeat, unlike a second one, can have a cathartic effect. A party that loses once can put it down to bad luck or the political cycle. A party that loses twice can blame a bad candidate. (That’s you, Mitt!) A party that loses three times can hardly avoid some navel inspection.
If the GOP lost another presidential election, it could trigger a serious reassessment of some of the party’s policies, but I am increasingly doubtful that this will happen. Here are a few reasons why. First, electoral success in 2010 seemed to vindicate the idea that the GOP could win without making any changes and even without having a relevant agenda, and another victory in 2014 would reinforce that. Not controlling the Presidency for eight years makes it more likely that Republicans will favor a relative moderate as their nominee, because enough Republicans will assume that this is required in order to win. If that nominee also lost, Republicans would use him as the scapegoat and most would be no more inclined to consider policy reform. In that scenario, a third loss wouldn’t prompt increased introspection or new thinking, but would simply leave the party rudderless and confused.
Recent experience suggests that repeated electoral defeats don’t have much of an impact on policy thinking inside the GOP. The 2012 election was supposed to spur a good deal of introspection and policy innovation, but what has been the result so far? To date, there has been a concerted effort by all the usual suspects on the right in favor of an immigration bill that most Republicans can’t and don’t support. This amounts to dusting off and recycling the bad, old, and unpopular ideas of Bush’s second term. One would be hard-pressed to find other major policy reform ideas gaining significant traction. Republican foreign policy is in dire need of reform, but it hasn’t been happening. The typical responses to the drubbings of 2006 and 2008 have been discouraging. To the extent that they connect those defeats to policy, Republicans usually deny that these losses had anything to do with Bush’s foreign policy record. Many pretend that Bush’s record was generally a successful one, and since 2008 they have indulged many of the worst instincts of the Bush era over the last four years. Finally, instead of grappling with what Bush did wrong, they have spent a lot of their time inventing a mostly fictional Obama record to run against. Making some changes on foreign policy–even superficial and rhetorical ones–seems an obvious way to address one of the party’s serious weaknesses, but there has been no movement on this except among a handful of members of Congress. The point here isn’t that foreign policy reform would be a panacea for the GOP or that it would remedy that many of the party’s electoral weaknesses, but that it is one of the more glaringly obvious opportunities for reform and a relatively easy way to break with the disasters of the Bush years. Despite that, there seems to be very little interest in it.