The GOP’s Entrepreneur Problem

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Bill Kristol writes,


A revivified and rejuvenated conservatism won’t come from the top down. It will happen organically and spontaneously. The best thing “leaders” of the party and the movement can do is to stop thwarting policy heterodoxy and political entrepreneurship.

After all, for a party that claims to value entrepreneurship, Republican politicians at the national level these days show very little of it. The Romney campaign was the opposite of entrepreneurial. Congressional leaders discourage entrepreneurial efforts by backbenchers. And for a movement that claims to understand the dangers of Hayek’s “fatal conceit,” conservative leaders tend to embrace centralization, trying to enforce pledges upon and punish deviationism by the rank and file.

If a senator or a representative has a good proposal on immigration or monetary policy or education or tax reform, he or she should introduce it. If a candidate has an idea, he or she should run on it. Don’t worry about getting the go-ahead from leadership or from power brokers, from donors or from interest groups. The elected officials of a great political party shouldn’t play “Mother, May I?”

I agree with Kristol’s main point here but think he underestimates the problem. I’m not sure congressional leaders really do “discourage entrepreneurial efforts by backbenchers”; my impression is that there aren’t many to discourage. The backbenchers don’t generate new ideas, and the leadership doesn’t embrace any idea for which the followership hasn’t already reached a consensus. So nobody moves. (The great exception: Paul Ryan, an entrepreneur who was effectively a member of the leadership, got the party to come out for some new policies.)

In the 1970s, Jack Kemp turned Republican tax policy upside down. He wasn’t a member of the leadership. He wasn’t even on the House Ways & Means Committee. Nobody is playing a similar role today.

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