Reading the Tea Leaves With McCain

I am spending a portion of this unusually balmy Presidents Day catching up on some reading, and happily came across a very interesting piece written by Ryan Lizza for the New Yorker’s Political Scene, entitled On the Bus – Can John McCain Reinvent Conservatism?

Aside from its entertaining look at McCain’s unguarded persona as he regales the traveling press on his Straight Talk bus (which by itself make the article worth reading), Lizza’s article includes an illumination of the perspectives of several Republicans regarding the present state and future prospects for the Republican Party.

There is this from Newt Gingrich:

The leader of the Republican takeover of the House in 1994, Gingrich now argues that the era of running against the government has ended. “The Republican Party cannot win over time as the permanently angry anti-government party because neither appeals to most voters,” he writes in his recent book, “Real Change.” Rather, he argues, Republicans must learn to be competent managers of the bureaucracy and “pro-good government.” Furthermore, he advises them to reject the Party’s guiding strategy of the past eight years: making increasingly urgent appeals to its most conservative supporters for maximum turnout. In what sounds like the advice that New Democrats gave liberals in the nineteen-eighties, Gingrich points out that “Republicans allow their campaigns to be dominated more and more by pandering to small, specific segments of the activist wing of the party”-a trend that he believes has contributed to the drop in Republican numbers on the two coasts. Gingrich’s advice amounts to a sharp rebuke of the dominant political and governing philosophy of the Bush years-in particular, the strategies formulated and advocated by Bush’s former political adviser Karl Rove-and he suggests that if McCain attempts a dramatic refashioning of his party he may find support in surprising places.

And there is this from Grover Norquist:

Norquist, a longtime conservative organizer, has a different view. In a forthcoming book, “Leave Us Alone,” he describes the Republican Party as little more than a collection of interest groups-such as anti-tax activists, gun-rights advocates, and homeschoolers-that, if they are carefully tended, will grow into a “supermajority.”

And there is this from David Frum, former White House speechwriter:

Frum, in his new book, “Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again,” warns conservatives about social trends that may overwhelm the Republican Party. He notes that Republicans have lost a generation of young voters during the Bush years. “The people who turned twenty between 1985 and 1990 were eight points more Republican than Democratic,” he told me. “People who turned twenty between 1970 and 1975 were eight points more Democratic than Republican. People who turned twenty between 2000 and 2005 are twelve points more Democratic.” He sees a country moving slightly to the left as Republicans are “left stranded on the right.” He told me, “If what you are is a pragmatic, business-oriented, moderate-minded person who wants things to work in a fairly competent and ethical way, and you’re under thirty-the kind of person who would have been an Eisenhower Republican and a Republican in the Nixon years and in the George H. W. Bush years-you are a Democrat today.” Frum added, “As the country becomes more single, more childless, more secular, more non-white, more immigrant, it becomes more Democratic. And all of those groups are growing.” Frum has ideas on how conservatives can reverse this trend, but his most radical thought is that, given the realities of the federal budget and the public’s unwillingness to curb entitlement spending, Republicans need to rethink their approach to tax cuts. He proposes making a deal with Democrats in which some of the Bush tax cuts become permanent in exchange for a carbon tax to deal with the global-warming crisis.

All three of these observations indicate what many conservatives are fretting about today — the party that they have pretty much owned for the past twenty years is due for some adaptation to the times.

Clearly the Rush Limbaughs and Jay Severins of the world gag on the idea that we do anything other than shore up the platform and jettison all non-right thinking party folks to the reeducation camps for a good dose of whoop-ass. They surely have their adherents. But with or without them, the changes are going to come. They can either be a part of the discussion or they can take their ball and go home — or, for a more dramatic metaphor, they can play the part of the desperado who holds a gun to his own head and threatens to shoot the hostage.

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