Almost daily, there is a fresh op-ed or magazine piece from the class of commentators and policy intellectuals urging Republicans to show a little intellectual leg and offer some daring and innovation beyond the old standbys of cutting income taxes and spending. It’s not that the eggheads are urging moderation — it’s more like relevance. The standard plea: The GOP will rebound only when it communicates to working-class and middle-class voters how its ideas will improve their lives.
But there is virtually no evidence that these impassioned appeals for change are being listened to by the audience that matters — Republican elected officials. With few exceptions, most of the GOP leadership in Washington is following a business-as-usual strategy. The language and tactics being used in this winter’s battles with President Barack Obama are tried-and-true Republican maxims that date back to the Reagan era or before. And that, say the wonks, spells political danger and more electoral decline.
“We had a false dawn from the 2010 midterm election,” said [former Bush aide Peter] Wehner, now a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. “It reinforced this belief from some people that dusting off the old Reagan playbook was the way to go, that we should be more ideological and concentrate more on cutting back government at the expense of other issues. That’s not unreasonable, but I think it was wrong.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor delivered a speech to the American Enterprise Institute last month touching on such topics as jobs training, overtime flexibility and education reform; and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has savaged the Washington GOP’s “obsession with government bookkeeping.”
But even these speeches are heavy on recycled conservative ideas (school vouchers in Cantor’s case; a balanced budget amendment is a Jindal favorite).
“They are an example of what’s both encouraging and discouraging,” said Wehner of Cantor and Jindal. “Their language is good, but the policy they’re proposing is old wine in new wineskin.”