Pete Spiliakos noticed the result of a National Journal poll of “insiders” that heavily favored Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush when asked who the “strongest” nominee would be in the next election. Two-thirds of these Republican “insiders” preferred these two over all of the others. As an indication of how unimaginative and desperate Republican insiders are right now, the survey has some value. It should also give conservatives a good idea of the sort of candidate that party leaders will try to foist on them in the coming years.

As Spiliakos says, these party insiders are asking the wrong question:

It reveals a combination of panic and laziness. The thinking seems to be that since Republicans are having trouble with the growing, nonwhite fraction of the electorate, they should nominate Rubio because he is the “Latino Republican version of Obama/Kennedy — he inspires, he’s handsome, and what’s not to like?” Well if he is the Latino Obama/Kennedy…

The Republican problem is not that their last ticket was a couple of white guys. The problem is that the entire center-right infrastructure is unable to communicate intelligibly to a large and growing fraction of the population.

The problem seems to go beyond that. While the insiders think that the GOP will be helped by a change in presentation (in this case, a more appealing standard-bearer), Spiliakos is concerned with changing rhetoric and improving on how Republican arguments are made, but in both cases it is the ideas that are being conveyed that need the most work. It isn’t just that there is an inability to communicate, but there also seems to be a difficulty in finding meaningful things to say.

To take an example that Spiliakos offers, it’s true that there aren’t many non-Republicans terrified of becoming “like Europe,” but that’s because in many respects the warnings that America is becoming “like Europe” misinterprets European housing market crashes and the single-currency mess as being primarily a problem of fiscal policy. People outside the party don’t know what it’s supposed to mean because it’s a bad argument crafted to exploit popular misunderstanding of the eurozone crisis and to set up an opposition between America and Europe that’s based on a decades-old view of Europe. Social mobility is greater in some parts of Europe today than it is in America, but it is accepted as a given among many Republicans, including Rubio, that the reverse continues to be true. (That this applies to some European nations and not to others is another good reason to avoid making broad generalizations about becoming “like Europe.”) As long as Republicans have mostly nothing to say about promoting social mobility, among other things, they will continue talking past most people outside their ranks. The message may get through to the public, but it will fall on deaf ears.

What Spiliakos overlooks is that the GOP won’t benefit from explaining their views more intelligibly so long as those views continue to be associated for good reason with the disastrous tenure of the previous administration. When Republican politicians are asked to explain how they differ from George W. Bush, they will need to have an answer, and they’ll need to be able to articulate it in a way that doesn’t insult the intelligence of the audience. Neither Rubio nor Bush substantively differ from the last president, and it’s possible that neither would understand why he should.