Eric Cantor is set to give a speech tomorrow in which he is supposed to take new rhetorical steps designed to “soften” the GOP’s image. However, Ron Fournier reports that there will be no softening of GOP ideology, only a softening of tone:
The speech will attempt to cast the House GOP’s traditionally conservative policy agenda in terms that appeal to parents, explaining why school vouchers, tax breaks, repealing the health care law, and other Republican standards would “make life work better.” […]
Cantor plans to ask Congress to require universities to warn students when their academic majors lack employment opportunities; to repeal the tax on medical devices, a provision of Obama’s health care overhaul; and to shift spending from political sciences to “hard” sciences such as cancer research.
One thing he won’t do is moderate Republican policies. Cantor is talking about a change in tone, not ideology, which begs the question: With a demographic tide threatening to crush the modern GOP, is it enough to just tweak talking points?
We should reserve judgment until we hear the actual speech, of course, but this suggests that it won’t be doing much to address the basic underlying problem, which is that Republicans still don’t seem able to convincingly articulate a positive role for government to play in people’s lives. After all, the policy ideas spelled out above don’t do much in that regard. For instance, is Cantor really going to reiterate the need to repeal Obamacare, even after Republicans lost an election fought partly around this point, and even as the GOP has dropped any pretense of even trying to come up with a replacement? Heck, more and more GOP governors are acknowledging that Obamacare is here to stay, by opting in to the Medicaid expansion, which is to say, they’re bowing to the inevitable rather than keeping up the repeal charade demanded by the Tea Partyers and Obamacare dead enders. Yet Obamacare repeal still remains on the party’s national agenda.
As far as I can tell, at this point there are three major prongs to the GOP plan for a revival:
1) Acknowledge the need to better communicate positively with voters about the GOP agenda, without changing the actual agenda. The party continues to insist on fixing our fiscal problems through spending cuts alone — despite the public’s profound hostility to deep entitlement cuts and its clear desire for a balance of cuts and new revenues. House Republicans have actually vowed to release a budget that will wipe out the deficit in 10 years, which would require deeper cuts than even the unpopular Ryan plan, all to avoid new revenues from the rich. Immigration? Sure, Republicans seem to have given ground in principle on the path to citizenship for the 11 million. But let’s see what they’re really willing to support in the end.
2) Continue pursuing a variety of tactics designed to weaken majority rule. Jonathan Chait has a good essay today spelling out the common thread running through all these tactics. There are voter ID laws and the electoral college vote rigging schemes bubbling up here and there, which are designed to leverage GOP control of state legislatures to offset the march of demographic change. Meanwhile, on the federal level, there’s still more filibustering. Right on cue, Mitch McConnell is confirming that the GOP may filibuster Chuck Hagel. Republicans are also planning to block Obama’s pick to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, in an effort to hollow out the agency via obstruction after failing to do so in Congress or in the 2012 election. More of the same old “nullification.”
3) Hope. Hope for a politically brilliant candidate to save the party from itself, and hope against hope that the demographic changes underway won’t be as bad for Republicans in 2016 as they appear. You frequently hear Republicans say a better national candidate is the answer to their ills. Meanwhile, As Ron Brownstein details, Republicans are telling themselves that the Democrats’ increasing reliance on its ascendant coalition of nonwhites, millenials, and college educated women — and its decreasing reliance on culturally conservative white males — will force Dems to push turnout among their core constituencies to truly astronomical levels, or risk losing. Republicans tell Brownstein that the next Democratic candidate will not be able to get the same turnout among these groups that Obama did.
There may be something to that. But is it really advisable to put all your chips on this hope, in the face of what Fournier calls a “demographic tide threatening to crush the modern GOP”? As Republicans themselves delighted in saying about Obama, “hope is not a plan.”