GOP presidential candidates were among the first to notice. Florida senator Marco Rubio, who announced for president last week, met several times with a group of conservative intellectuals last year. Now his agenda, notably on taxes, echoes their ideas. So does his new book, American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone.
When Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, came to Washington in February, he made a point of huddling with five policy experts associated with the Conservative Reform Network. One of them, CRN policy director April Ponnuru, wound up being hired. She will soon join the Bush campaign as an adviser.
CRN, which brings together reform-minded Republicans and think tank scholars, is a leader in the conservative idea business. It has spurred a fresh flow of proposals, policies, talking points, and new ways of thinking, mostly based on a concept called “applied conservatism.”
Democrats have nothing to match this GOP idea machine. Their allegiance to identity politics and obeisance to liberal interest groups has led to a commitment to policies from the New Deal and Great Society. Their newest idea is increasing Social Security benefits, itself an old idea. Liberals are “intellectually defunct,” says John Murray, an adviser to former House majority leader Eric Cantor and now CRN chairman.