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Why the GOP Could Be in the Wilderness For a Long Time

Instead of confronting their policy failures, Republicans double down on them.
President Bush at his Crawford Ranch

Ross Douthat makes a fair point:

But just because the G.O.P. looks like it could spend a generation in the wilderness doesn’t meant that it actually will. National parties exist to win national elections, and that incentive alone often suffices to drive changes that the party’s interest groups and ideological enforcers dislike.

There’s no question that Republican leaders are willing to change certain things about the party, at least superficially, in order to win the White House and the Senate. A remarkable insta-consensus has formed among several movement conservative pundits and some Republican politicians that backing some version of immigration amnesty is a necessary and even desirable thing that the party must do. It’s a bad response as a matter of policy, and it is one that won’t even yield the desired electoral benefits. It is telling that the first big policy proposal that a leading Republican would make after the 2012 defeat is to revive one of the most unpopular pieces of the Bush administration’s domestic agenda. If this is “saving” the GOP, what would wrecking it even more look like? It is reasonably safe to assume that the GOP will remain in the political wilderness for several more years, because most of its leaders still don’t understand how they got there in the first place. Even fewer have a good idea for how to get out.

The problem for the GOP, as it is for all defeated, flailing parties, is that its leaders are sometimes oblivious to the party’s most serious weaknesses, or else they mistake those weaknesses for strengths. Hard-line foreign policy is one example of a clear liability for the party that its leaders believe to be one of their great advantages, which is one reason why it never even occurs to them that they are losing current and possible future supporters by hanging on to failed policy ideas. (Another is that they can’t or won’t acknowledge that the policies failed.) Far more politically damaging for Republicans are the national party’s lack of any relevant economic policy agenda and its cynical, selective interest in fiscal responsibility. This is the “pro-growth” party that presided over wage stagnation and anemic job growth in the 2000s, and this is the party supposedly horrified by deficit spending while being historically far worse at running up deficits when in power.

The weaknesses don’t stop there. The GOP wants to be perceived as the party of limited, constitutional government, but it just went through the better part of a decade expanding the size and intrusiveness of government, and it supported practices of illegal detention and illegal surveillance to boot. With depressingly few exceptions, the party hasn’t repudiated any of the latter, and there appears to be no urgency in reversing or undoing any of the damage done by these things. Having trashed almost everything that their party was supposed to represent, many Republican leaders act as if the worst thing that ever happened during the Bush years was a profusion of earmarks. Until they stop kidding or lying to themselves about what happened the last time there was unified Republican government, it’s doubtful that the public will be willing to entrust them with that much power.



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