The Corner

Liberal Meme Emerges: Same Old GOP

After the 2012 election, every pundit in this great land posed the question, “Whither the GOP?” Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Bobby Jindal, and Eric Cantor all gave major speeches to address this question. National Review Institute held a summit, and Commentary had a symposium. A pretty promising start, it seems. 

But according to liberal writers, it’s the same old, same old for the Republican party. 

Take a look: 

Ezra Kelin: “The Republican Party isn’t reinventing itself so much as reverting to its previous form. There’s little evidence of a rethinking of core Republican policy ideas. There’s no obvious analogue to the Democratic Leadership Council of the late 1980s and early 1990s, which was a moderating influence on the Democrats.”

Michael Tomasky: “Cantor’s ‘Make Life Work’ speech Tuesday was more about repackaging than rethinking. . . . the ideas ranged from OK to largely irrelevant to done before to actively bad.”

Greg Sargent: “In speeches and interviews, up-and-coming Republicans like Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal and Paul Ryan have urged the party to craft solutions and build new appeal to ordinary Americans. Of course, neither figure has proposed actual reform . . . they’ve pushed new rhetoric for the same policies.”

Francis Wilkinson: “House Majority Leader Eric Cantor gave what was billed as a major policy speech today at the American Enterprise Institute. The policy specifics in the approximately 4,600-word speech amounted to pretty thin gruel. Instead, the speech was almost entirely about repositioning Cantor and the Republican Party politically.”

Albert Hunt: “[Cantor’s speech] at the American Enterprise Institute was short on specific policy prescriptions, other than criticisms of President Barack Obama’s health-care law and a broad call for a pathway to citizenship for the children of undocumented workers. Instead, the Virginia Republican sought to present a more caring image for his party.”

Alec MacGillis: “So it was with tremulous anticipation that I hurried back from lunch today in time to catch an online feed of Cantor’s big address. What grand ideas would be unveiled to get Cantor’s party out of its current rut and, more specifically, ‘benefit families across the nation’? Cutting the medical device tax. . . . Not much ground-breaking there.”

E. J. Dionne: “Rebranding is trendy in the Republican Party. . . . But there’s a big difference between rebranding and pursuing a different approach to governing. . . . A lot of the [GOP’s] rebranding efforts are superficial.”

Okay, okay, we get it. Of course, there are some new ideas being floated around, but the liberal writers are mostly correct: much of the GOP’s rebranding is really just repackaging.

Still, I have two problems with this new liberal talking point.

First, while it’s true that many of the policies Republicans are now promoting are not in fact new, most people connect Republican economics with tax cuts, and tax cuts alone. In other words, just because writers for The New Republic think these policies are old doesn’t mean that the average American will. 

Second, what new policies did Democrats promote from 2004 to 2008? Universal health insurance goes back decades. Increasing spending for infrastructure projects is hardly a new idea. Equal pay for women? Increasing social welfare spending? Please, that is so 1970s. 

Sure, Democrats have certain demographic factors in their favor. But prior to Obama, the last Democratic presidential candidate to nab more than 50 percent of the vote was Jimmy Carter in 1976. Let’s be honest. Obama didn’t win the 2008 election, because voters loved his policies. He won because voters perceived Bush to be a failure and because of the financial crisis. Obama’s biggest accomplishment was repackaging standard Democratic party policies as Hope and Change.

No, this isn’t the Republican equivalent of the DLC, but it still might be enough to improve the GOP’s standing. We’ll have to wait and see. 


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