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Does The GOP Lack Ideas, Or Communicators?

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My Monday Washington Examiner column plays off of Sam Tanenhaus’ article in the New York Times Magazine Sunday: “Can the GOP Be A Party of Ideas?”

I spent most of an hour on Thursday’s program chatting with Tanenhaus about the piece, and the transcript of that interview is here.

The transcript of my 2009 interview with ST after his “Death of Conservatism” book became a best-seller is here.

Tanenhaus raises bunches of interesting questions in his new piece, but misses some key aspects of the ideas at the core of the GOP renewal.  My questions to him Thursday put these issues squarely to him, among them: Didn’t he miss many of the key players?  What about the Tea Party’s driving ideas? And isn’t the crisis in ideas on the other side?  Unlike the GOP, President Obama had filibuster proof majorities in 2009-10 and came up with the Stimulus, Dodd-Frank and Obamacare, and now flails about with EPA edicts and a world sliding into chaos.  Hard to see how the GOP can’t be looking good by comparison.

But read the Tanenhaus piece, the interview and the column.  I’ll spend a lot of time next week discussing all three.  The problem with the GOP is not a lack of conservative ideas, but a lack of House of Representatives’ leadership willing to press them at every turn, in every forum, at length and with passion and conviction.  The problem is much less severe in the states and in the Senate, but the branch of the federal government the GOP controls has been singularly inept at making the case for specific policy proposals, and nowhere more than when it comes to national defense.  Paul Ryan and Jeb Hensarling alone among the high profile GOP House members is known for policy innovation.

As for the “reformicons” Tanenhaus points to, they need political sponsors mixing it up on policy, and that has to change before 2016 comes into play.  Arthur Laffer had his Jack Kemp, and whether it is Yuval Levin or any of the other “reformicons,” they need sitting congressmen willing to implement their ideas.

It will be possible to win in 2014 on a purely negative reaction to the unparalleled awfulness of the president’s record and his increasingly off-putting persona, but to beat Hillary in 2016 it will take energy and ideas, and the nomination will probably go to the candidate who is most familiar with the most interesting and serious ideas offered from the vast network of public intellectuals that Tanenhaus barely delineates.  Note that in my interview the idea turf is currently being battled over by Senators Cruz, Paul and Rubio.  Watch and see which of them spend the most time on talk radio in the year ahead –along with some reform-minded governors like Jindal, Kasich and walker– making very specific cases for very specific reforms.  To the debaters will go the spoils.  Just as they did in 1980.


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