I agree with nearly every word of Pete Spiliakos’s post in reaction to Ross Douthat’s (equally thoughtful) take on the marginalization of Catholic social thought in American politics:

Spiliakos writes:

There is a hole in our politics where a center-right politics of limited government solidarity should be. That isn’t because of a lack of policy proposals or the lack of a (latent) public desire for such a center-right politics.  This lack in our politics exists because of mistakes by key political elites who keep getting suckered by Obama’s statism into a radical-sounding rhetorical anti-statism that doesn’t even reflect Republican policy. Better options are available. We just need to stop charging furiously every time Obama waves his red flag and build our own positive message. We might find that a prudent and relevant Catholic-influenced Republican politics is more popular than the Republican politics of job creators + tax cuts for high earners + nothing.

I do have to quibble with one point, however. Spiliakos is right that Republicans spout anti-statist rhetoric that’s more extreme than the actual portfolio of policies they’re trying to enact. But it’s not because Obama is “suckering” them. Obama practices a center-left politics that is not substantially different from that of the Clintons. And to the extent that Republicans insist on defining the center-left as “radical,” they must rhetorically push themselves further right in order to offer a truly “conservative” alternative. (As Dan McCarthy observes, this seems to be Sen. Rand Paul’s long-term gameplan. I’m not sure it’s a recipe for success in ’16—and it seems to me that Paul is developing a “populist libertarian”  message to soften the hard edges.)

Secondarily, Republicans would, I think, have employed apocalyptic rhetoric about country-destroying socialism and spiteful 47 Percentism even if Hillary Clinton had won the presidency in 2008. The party, and the movement broadly speaking, needed to evade responsibility for the financial crisis and the recession that followed. So it noisily separated itself from the big-spending ways and self-advertised “compassion” of the Bush administration—even as it now grapples with the task of presenting an agenda that affirmatively appeals to middle-class families.

The problem is simple: a pro-family agenda and the apocalyptic anti-statism are divergent paths.

Sooner rather than later, conservatives interested in winning elections again are going to have to choose.