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The Midterms and Republican Reform

Michael Gerson warns that a Republican takeover of the Senate could be bad for the party:

The last Republican midterm win actually complicated the long-term task of Republican reform. Many in the GOP took away a lesson in complacency. Some concluded that ideological purity is the path back to power, and that effective persuasion is only a matter of turning up the volume.

It didn’t work. It can’t work. Republican midterm victories are the anomaly, distracting attention from trends that are gradually condemning the Republican Party to regional appeal and national irrelevance.

It’s true that the GOP win in 2010 seemed to reward the party’s rejectionism, and Republicans went into 2012 assuming that the elections was theirs to lose. It’s probably also true that the GOP won’t see any reason to develop a relevant governing agenda if it wins control of the Senate this year. Then again, the party’s leaders have been oblivious to many of the party’s greatest weaknesses whether they are winning or losing elections. The 2006 and 2008 elections were lost in no small part because their party was closely identified with the biggest foreign policy blunder in a generation, but this has had almost no effect on the foreign policy views of most elected Republicans, pundits, and policy professionals on the right. Despite two consecutive humiliations at the polls, there was zero interest in reforming Republican foreign policy, and there still isn’t very much. It is doubtful that narrowly losing in 2014 will have much of an effect on the party’s interest in policy reform.

Failing to win control of the Senate for the third election in a row might be necessary to make more Republicans realize that they have a serious problem, but we have already seen that major electoral defeats are not sufficient to make the party take interest in reforming itself in a big way. If the GOP falls short of taking control of the Senate next month, the result will be explained away as a fluke, and to some extent that is what it would be. Since there is no chance that Republicans are going to lose seats in the House, and absolutely no chance of losing the majority, the complacency that Gerson worries about will still be there no matter which party controls the Senate.

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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