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.