Over the weekend, Jonathan Chait wrote yet another article defending his new thesis, Yes, Conservative Reformers Exist. In this installment, he argued that the issue is one of tactics: some try to reform from the inside and some from the outside. This is missing the fundamental issue. Regardless of where the “reformer” is arguing from, if his policies don’t deviate from conservative orthodoxy, there is no reform. Any political party will have differences of opinion about core issues. For example, some Republicans believe in universal background checks for gun purchases. That isn’t a reform position, it’s just a more moderate position than that held by Ted Cruz.
What we have with the vast majority of Chait’s reformers are people who really do like what the Republicans stand for. Consider Avik Roy. He’s willing to make nice about Obamacare once in a while, but the moment he has the opportunity we spews lies and deceptions about the program. The truth is that he is just one of the storm troopers for the Republican Party. Whether that is just affinity bias or that Roy just doesn’t believe in universal health insurance, I can’t say. But there is no doubt that in the Republican Party, he always acts to strengthen the given policy, not to reform it or the party.
Most of Chait’s article centers on Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam. What I think he is missing is that these guys really like the modern Republican Party. It is not just their relationship to the party that is tactical; their relationship for is also tactical. They aren’t trying to make the party better, in the sense of having policies that are more in line with those that most of the nation accepts. Rather, they are trying to make the party more effective by making the policies sound more appealing.
The case of Douthat on Obamacare is instructive. Before Obama was in office, Douthat was all for the idea. But once it became a credible bill, Douthat turned on it. And now he has a new scheme:
This is not a real plan; this is just an excuse to destroy Obamacare. Remember: the conservatives first embraced the Obamacare type plan only to stop the country from getting a single payer health insurance plan. Once Obamacare was on the table, they had nothing. All Douthat is doing is providing another plausible sounding alternative. If Obama embraced it, the conservatives (including the “reformers”) would suddenly find that it was an evil socialist plot to destroy our very way of life.
In a sense, the real reformers in the Republican Party are people like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. They are the only ones I see who are really trying to push the party in major ways. Of course, most of those ways would lead further right, but still: they are real ideas.
The truth is that I don’t think there is any hope of the Republican Party reforming itself. The problem is the Democratic Party. By moving steadily to the right in terms of economic and foreign policy, it has given the Republicans nowhere to go except the proto-fascist crazy land where they now reside. The real question is how the Republican Party can move away from the far right when the Democratic Party is crowding its left flank. The Democrats can easily move to the left. And only by doing that will they provide the political room for the Republicans to stretch out.
One thing is certain: the Republican Party will not be saved by “reformers” like Douthat nibbling around the edges.