Sunday, June 08, 2014


Ross Douthat tells us today that Hillary Clinton's popularity is saving Democrats from possible electoral disaster in 2016, in part because Democrats are underestimating the appeal of Republicans' abundant wealth of new ideas - no, really:
... many Democratic partisans assume that 2016 will inevitably be better for their party than the looming midterms, and many analysts assume that the Republican Party is a long, long way from mounting a substantive challenge to liberalism. My friends on the left have an extensive list of things that the right simply "must" do before the G.O.P. can be relevant at the presidential level again (crush the Tea Party, then move left on immigration, then move left on everything else ...), and they express a certain condescension toward the recent stirrings of conservative policy innovation: Nice effort, but you'll have to move a lot further in our direction if you expect to win the White House back.
Now, I'll admit that I've expressed a lot of concern about Democrats' ability to win in 2016 without Hillary, in large part because Democrats are terrible at making genuine stars out of fresh talent (the GOP noise machine is much better at this, partly because it's relentlessly propagandistic, and partly because the mainstream media looks to it for cues, which is how empty suits like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul attained superstar status mere weeks after they were sworn in to the Senate).

But does Douthat really think the GOP could actually win in 2016 on the strength of fresh reform ideas?

Douthat's pals in the professional liberal commentariat may be saying that reform conservatism is weak tea, but I don't think that's its real problem. The real problem with reform conservatism is that it's not acceptable to the Republican Party. Let me put that another way: Reform is not acceptable to the Republican Party -- certainly not reform that looks anything like moderation. The problem isn't that reform conservatives aren't getting enough credit for trying to drag the GOP a few inches to the left -- it's that the GOP has just spent five-plus years letting the tea party drag it a few miles further to the right.

Has the party made any real effort to promote an alternative to Obamacare? No. Does the party have an immigration proposal it's willing to fight for? No. Apart from a couple of halfhearted stabs by Rand Paul and Paul Ryan, does the party have any ideas for dealing with entrenched poverty? And aren't the Paul and Ryan ideas just reheated Jack Kemp proposals from the last century?

And on foreign policy, as Elias Isquith notes, isn't Ran Paul's alleged break with the GOP's saber-rattling, neocon-friendly past now shown to be a big joke, given Paul's refusal to offer the slightest challenge to the unified GOP "Democrats are weak on defense!" howling in response to the Bowe Bergdahl release?

Please note that Paul, who was supposed to be the guy pointing the GOP toward the future on foreign policy and other issues, is not only running 10 points behind Hillary Clinton in a new Washington Post/ABC poll, he's running worse among 18-39-year-olds (56% Hillary, 41% Rand) than he is among senior citizens (47% Hillary, 45% Rand). I guess the young can spot phony youth appeal.

Ross, wake me when reform conservatism actually happens. Right now it's mostly just a bunch of people writing position papers for you to swoon over, and nothing more.


Victor said...

Give Douchehat and Bobo time.

They're trying to find the right narrative to sell to people who don't pay much attention to politics.

aimai said...

Like all Ross columns this is about wishful thinking. Ross always writes about a Republican party that doesn't exist and he writes to an imaginary audience of liberal disbelievers. Its got nothing to do with us. We are just standing around and pointing and laughing. We can't make the Republican party sane, and we can't change the demographics with which they are fucking themselves out of presidential contention.

Its a mistake to think that Douthat's columns are really think pieces in any serious sense or can be argued with on the basis of fact--they don't take any thought, for one thing, and are always about appearances and opinions, for another. They are really quickly jotted down apologia and responses to things that other people in his social circle or other journalists that he is reading are saying.

So if it were his beat he'd read an article about how Mangoes are coming into season and lots of people will be using them in fruit cocktail and he'd argue that "contra" that perspective some people don't like Mangoes and will not find them as available in grocery stores as all that. It might be true, it might not, but that isn't the issue. He is just in the "dissapointing people who like mangoes" business.

Ken_L said...

"Democrats are terrible at making genuine stars out of fresh talent ..."

Not sure I agree with this. They seemed to do a pretty good job with Obama.

sdhays said...

Ken_L: The exception that proves the rule?

The right creates mythical heroes from nothing in every election. The only two Democrats I can think of that come close are Barack Obama starting in 2004 and Elizabeth Warren in 2012. Obama went on to actually become President, defeating an extremely popular, experienced, and well-funded opponent in the primaries and another fairly well-liked (not by me) and well-known opponent in the general. I think it's safe to say that he was special. And Elizabeth Warren was a grassroots activist who was a household name among some on the left before she even worked in the administration; going up against the guy who's election nearly derailed Obamacare added to the attention she received (not to mention that she wasn't running in South Dakota or some other state in "fly over country" that national journalists can't be bothered to cover). That's not exactly the trajectory that Rand Paul and Ted Cruz followed.

Ken_L said...

The problem with the conservatives "instant political star" approach is that the products have no staying power. The 2012 GOP primaries were hilarious - every week an exciting new possibility burst on the national scene, only to fade away almost instantly to their pizza companies or TV shows. See also : Palin, S after 2008. Yet when it comes to presidential elections, the best they can do is tired old names like Bush, McCain and Romney.

Cruz is already yesterday's hero, and Paul will be relegated to a similar oddball status as his father by 2016. My fearless forecast, which fortunately nobody will remember if it's wrong, is that come 2016 we'll see the Republicans nominating a well-known governor like Bush or Christie.

M. Bouffant said...

It's as if Douthat heard a hurricane warning & the first thing he did was hammer another layer of plywood over the epistemic closure window in his house that's been covered in wood & nails for three or four hurricane seasons now.

Two or three mos. after the "shock" of Romney losing the recriminations & searching for a new direction had all blown over & it was back to "No compromise to our principles, run real conservatives," w/ a now-melted icing of "Let's try to keep the worst nominees out of the limelight & teach them what not to say." That's the totality of reform & new ideas.

And the usual: A "certain condescension" has been expressed. Honestly. Condescension is too good for them.

An imaginary audience of liberal disbelievers.
Oh that's who reads The NYT op-ed page.

Victor said...

"Condescension is too good for them."

I prefer to mock them.

Redwood said...

Unfortunately, I don't think it matters who the GOP nominates in 2016, they're going to win. At least half of all the liberal activists I know hate-hate-HATE Clinton with a passion (she voted for Iraq, she'll have the same 1%-friendly economic policy, etc., etc.) Most of them are hoping against hope that Warren runs, and will cast a protest vote or a non-vote against Clinton in 2016.

I think Clinton will lose a large number (10-20%) of leftist votes - far more than the number of independents the GOP candidate will lose.

flipyrwhig said...

The raw number of "leftists," or for that matter the number of raw leftists, is very, very small. Most Democrats in most places aren't remotely close to being leftists.