Can conservative reformers succeed?
Or will Darrell Issa, Allen West, and Erick Erickson win?
When former Bush speechwriter (and former columnist for TheWeek.com) David Frum announced he was ending his popular blog on The Daily Beast, he left a checklist for conservative reformers to ponder and follow. Frum, who has been critical of conservative icons such as Rush Limbaugh and "the conservative entertainment complex," has fueled a debate over the tone, content, and direction of conservatism — a debate particularly important given a recent report by the College Republican National Committee detailing the Republican Party's big trouble with younger voters.
The College Republicans report said young voters surveyed found the GOP "closed-minded, racist, rigid, [and] old-fashioned," dismissive of Latinos and other groups, and that it's losing young voters due to "outrageous statements made by errant Republican voices."
Here's Frum's advice and critique: "1) There remain too many taboos and shibboleths even among the conservative reformers.... 2) Conservative reformers are understandably allergic to arguments about income inequality.... 3) Conservative reformers must not absent themselves from the environmental debate... 4) Conservative reformers should make their peace with universal health coverage. It's the law, and it won't be repealed." And here's number five:
5) I appreciate that conservative reformers must pay lip-service to shibboleths about Barack Obama being the worst president of all time, who won't rest until he has snuffed out the remains of constitutional liberty, etc. etc. Dissent too much from party orthodoxy, and you find yourself outside the party altogether. Still … conservative reformers should admit, if only to themselves, the harm that has been done by the politics of total war over the past five years. Now Republicans are working themselves into a frenzy that will paralyze Congress for the next 18 months at least, and could well lead to an impeachment crisis. As it becomes clear that the IRS story is an agency scandal, not a White House scandal, conservative reformers need to be ready to do their part to apply the brakes and turn the steering wheel. There will be a Republican president again someday, and that president will need American political institutions to work. Republicans also lose as those institutions degenerate. [Daily Beast]
But is there any realistic chance that there can be a conservative course correction like the one college Republicans and Frum seek? It may take some doing.
Republicans continue to go to extremes. Rep. Darrell Issa's over-reach comments calling White House spokesman Jay Carney a "paid liar" undermined the Republicans' political gains so much that GOPers have asked him to cool it. Former Rep. Allen West declared in a fundraising email that Attorney General Eric Holder is a "bigger threat to our Republic" than al Qaeda.
Here's The Washington Monthly's Ed Kilgore: "If you read [Frum's] five prescriptions, I'm sure you'd agree that today's Republicans are very, very far from accepting any of them. " The Washington Post's Greg Sergant wondered, "How many Republican elected officials are even beginning to address them, in any way, shape or form?"
Indeed, plenty of conservatives like things the way they are. Red State's influential Erick Erickson argued that calls for conservative reform come from academics and technocrats in Washington and New York, not the party's grassroots — and proceeded to personally attack, Business Insider's pro-reform Josh Barro:
Josh Barro is a late twenty-something gay male who hates conservatives, champions ObamaCare, attacks Republicans for wanting to oppose it, supports the tax hikes that come with ObamaCare, wants to rid the GOP of social conservatives, and gets fawning pieces of prattle composed by liberals who want everyone to know that their friend Josh Barro is a conservative reformer who wants less conservatism. [Red State]
Barro's reply post, titled "Erick Erickson Shows Everything That's Wrong with the GOP," noted that that "the bulk of [Erickson's] piece isn't even really about me; it's about Erickson's resentment of New York- and Washington-based 'elites'.. as though New York and Washington were not real places populated by real people." Barro argued that the bigger problem is that the Republican Party has become a party that relies on fanning resentments.
This is a strategic problem for Republicans for several reasons. One is that the party's reliance on a resentment-based appeal has caused its policy apparatus to atrophy. Erickson is not alone among conservatives in thinking that academic and technocratic; approaches are best left to pointy-headed liberals. Another is that people like Erickson are a declining share of the electorate. [Business Insider]
That means conservatives need specific, affirmative ideas to respectfully present to young voters and rising demographic groups. Which is what Frum advocates — and many of today's conservatives reject.