How the Republican Party Isn’t Divided

Michael Gerson posits first a distinction and then a conflict between, on the one hand, the “Reform Conservatism” of Paul Ryan and a few conservative writers and, on the other, the “Rejectionist Conservatism” of. . . well, other than Ron Paul, it’s not entirely clear, but it appears to include a lot of tea partiers. I’ll grant him the distinction, but I think he both misunderstands it and exaggerates the conflict it creates.

Gerson writes, “Reform Conservatism is less ideologically ambitious than Rejectionist Conservatism. It would replace Obamacare, for example, rather than simply abolish it.” This is backwards. A Paul Ryan-style reform of health care is much more ideologically ambitious than merely returning to the health-care policy status quo of 2008 by repealing Obamacare.

He writes further, “In this political season, Rejectionist Conservatism and Reform Conservatism have been at odds and, on occasion, at war. We’ve seen this conflict in tea party primary insurgencies against establishment Republicans.” Really? Give us an example of a “war” between these forces. The words “primary insurgencies” link to articles about the Senate primaries in Indiana and Utah. Does anyone really believe that the establishment candidates in those races are more in line with Representative Ryan than their challengers are? Is there any evidence that Ryan regards the tea partiers as factional enemies? Or that any significant number of them regard him that way? As far as I can tell, the answers are no, no, and no.

Ramesh Ponnuru — Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg View, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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