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Re: The Right, the Left, and Reform Conservatism


Yuval’s fine post made me think of another respect in which “reform conservatism” is closer to the tea parties than to the Republican establishment (to simplify crudely). That establishment came out of the 2012 election convinced that what the party needed to do to make a comeback was simple: Enact comprehensive immigration reform, move left on same-sex marriage, talk less about abortion, invest in get-out-the-vote technology, nominate rhetorically disciplined candidates, and wait for victory. Many liberals agreed with this prescription, and the agreement of these two groups has made this prescription a dominant topic of political conversation since then.

It is certainly possible for “reform conservatives,” or conservatives who agree with some of our “reformist” ideas, to agree with some of the steps on that list too. But the thrust of reform conservatism runs against the establishment’s strategy.

The establishment assumes that the party’s most fundamental problem is its position on immigration and social issues, and the resulting perception that it is intolerant. The reformists believe that the deeper problem is the party’s economic agenda, and the resulting perception that it is indifferent to the interests of most people. And so while some of us want to enact the kind of immigration legislation that has passed the Senate and some of us do not, none of us believe that enactment would go a long way toward fixing what ails the Republican party.

Tea partiers do not generally make the assumption that everything in the party’s approach is fine except for one or two issues, and so reform conservatism does not have to push back against that complacency to work alongside them. And the tea partiers tend—as evidenced by their agitation against Republican support for crony capitalism—to be open to the idea that the party’s approach to economic issues should change.

This difference in political outlook, separating tea partiers and reformists on the one hand from liberals and establishment Republicans on the other, helps to explain the reception of Room to Grow. It has received next to no criticism from people to our right, while people to our left keep criticizing the book for failing to advocate a more liberal stance on immigration and social issues.


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