1. I saw Paul Ryan on today’s Fox News Sunday. Ryan did a pretty good job making his proposed spending cuts and premium support Medicare policies seem like nonideological common sense He did about as well as could reasonably have been expected given the subject matter. I was really impressed with the questions of Chris Wallace. He doesn’t come at all hostile or snide, but his questions are very tough. I don’t know what Wallace’s personal politics are, but he knows the center-right worldview really well as well as some of the better center-left critiques of conservative proposals. He also knows where and in what ways the conservative worldview diverges from that of nonconservatives, and Wallace is able to ask questions that forces Republicans to talk to conservatives and nonconservatives simultaneously. Wallace’s questions on Medicaid cuts were very good.
2. Excellent column by Ross Douthat on Rand Paul. The most important takeaways aren’t even about Rand Paul. There are huge openings within the Republican party for policy entrepreneurs. If the goal is power rather than money, staking out a distinct set of conservative policies looks like a good bet. Compare Paul Ryan’s (or even Rand Paul’s) influence in the Republican party today that of Sarah Palin. She was able to monetize her celebrity, but not staking out a distinct set of policy positions has left her name recognition a wasting asset. Ryan took some pretty major and scary-sounding entitlement reforms and changed the path of the Republican party.
One possible lesson of the last five years is that heterodox Republicans will be taken down by Tea Party challengers. I think that lesson is mistaken because it defines heterodoxy exclusively in terms of senatorial old bulls like Richard Lugar and liberal Republicans like Mike Castle. There is more to Republican diversity than the kinds of Republicans that are beloved by liberal Washington journalists. Marco Rubio spoke during Rand Paul’s filibuster, but I suspect there are huge foreign policy differences between these two establishment-beating Tea Party insurgents.
I think a better lesson is that the identity of the Republican party is somewhat up for grabs, but that the space for reform is on the party’s right rather than its center. Trying to explain that to Tea Partiers that they are a bunch of ignorant jerks (basically the Huntsman strategy) will be good for some news coverage, but you won’t shift policy within the party. This kind of elitist center-left Republicanism is really just another version of Palin’s post-2008 politics of celebrity with absurdity on top. At least Sarah Palin was trying to appeal to actual Republicans rather than Republican-haters. The Republican party will be shifted by politicians who are able to convince conservatives of new ways to be authentically conservative under changing conditions (Ryan on Medicare) rather than by telling Republicans to stop being so darn extreme. Or as Douthat put it “if you know how to speak the language of the party’s base, it’s possible to be a different kind of Republican without forfeiting your conservative bona fides.”
It might even be the best way to advance yourself within the Republican party.