The Republican Elites’ Vision of Reform

by Ramesh Ponnuru

The conventional wisdom among Republican elites about the election congealed seemingly the instant Mitt Romney lost. It was that the party needed to tone down its social-issues talk, embrace comprehensive immigration reform, improve its get-out-the-vote operation, highlight more nonwhite and female spokespersons, shorten the presidential primaries, and take greater control over the primary debates. These recommendations come naturally to Republican elites. Compared to rank-and-file Republicans, they are more likely to favor same-sex marriage and comprehensive immigration reform on principle, and those who are opposed to one or both generally don’t care much about the issues. They don’t, however, tend to have any major problems with the Republican economic agenda and do not believe it needs to be rethought in any serious way. The Republican report reflects this elite conventional wisdom perfectly, just perfectly. That doesn’t mean everything in the report is wrong. I’m inclined to think its suggested reforms of the primary process would be marginally helpful for conservatism. And I have nothing against highlighting Republicans who aren’t white men. The report does not, however, engage in the thorough data-driven analysis of what has gone wrong for Republicans that the party needs.

Take the most explicit policy recommendation the report makes: that Republicans embrace comprehensive immigration reform. The report doesn’t even try to demonstrate that this step would win the party more voters than it loses–which, you  might think, is pretty important when political advice is being handed out. It ignores all of the political arguments made by critics of comprehensive reform, let alone the policy arguments. The fact that Hispanics tend to be more supportive of Obamacare than white voters, for example, goes unmentioned.

The blinkered approach taken by this report is going to limit its effectiveness at persuading Republicans, even on the points where it’s right.

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