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Escaping from Fantasy Politics

Ross Douthat suggests an alternative to “fantasy politics”:

Well, I suppose one possible alternative would be for Republicans to step outside the murder-suicide context of shutdowns and debt ceiling brinksmanship, set aside the fantasy of winning major policy victories in divided government, cut a few small deals if possible and otherwise just oppose the president’s agenda on issues like immigration and climate change, and try to win the next two elections on the merits.

Part of making the GOP more competitive as a national party is to develop a policy agenda that isn’t simply a revised version of the losing campaigns of 2008 or 2012, and the ability to do that is being directly and indirectly threatened the longer that the shutdown continues. Some of the more interesting policy innovators on the right are suffering some serious damage because of their leading role in the party’s shutdown fight. Mike Lee gave a well-regarded speech on tax reform earlier this year that could mark the start of some productive new policy thinking. Unfortunately, that seems likely to be overwhelmed by the sharply negative reaction in Utah to Lee’s role in the shutdown. One of the most promising House Republicans, Justin Amash, has drawn a primary challenger specifically because of his prominent role in all of this. This just underscores that the entire episode has been bad for both the quality of Republican policy thinking and for the electoral chances of Republicans in future elections. That in turn makes it much less likely that Republicans will be in a position to pass their own agenda, and it makes it less likely that they will have policy ideas worth implementing once they are in a position to do so.

No matter what else happens, the shutdown has already done significant political harm to the party’s more interesting policy innovators and it has likely made it harder for their most valuable ideas to receive a wider hearing. The public has become less sympathetic to small government views thanks to the shutdown, and that will make it that much more difficult for small-government conservative and libertarian Republicans to promote the rest of their agenda. Republicans and conservatives of all kinds are likely annoyed with their elected representatives right now, but those that see the potential of so-called libertarian populism and related ideas ought to be banging their heads against the wall in frustration.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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