The distinguished people this week were the group of conservative reformers, including elected officials like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and GOP Senators Mike Lee (Utah) and Tim Scott (S.C.) who rolled out a unifying theme and agenda for the right – reform conservatism. With think-tank scholars Arthur Brooks, Yuval Levin, Ramesh Ponnuru and Peter Wehner (as well as conservative journalists) they sketched out a portrait of what Brooks sometimes call the New Right. Breaching the divide (which is already being erased) between tea party and establishment Republicans, and refocusing the right on helping the lower- and middle class, they offer a much needed renovation of the conservative movement that took hold with Ronald Reagan.
In essence, the GOP has been living with 1980s furniture, which isn’t helping to sell the party to 21st-century buyers. The meat of conservatism is not the specific issues and positions Reagan took at a particular point in time, but an outlook that favors limited but effective government. The reformers argue in favor of a government that is lean enough to allow private markets and institutions to flourish but bold enough to redesign entitlement programs, revolutionize schools, re-create higher education and jump start the economy with pro-growth measures, including domestic energy development.
Lots of people have been thinking about bits and pieces of this agenda for a number of years. But synthesizing and giving shape and visibility to a set of discrete reform proposals is critical in electoral politics. It is especially so when a political party is sprucing and updating its outlook.
Their effort comes at an auspicious time: when the liberal welfare state is crumbling under its own weight and is accompanied by the endemic corruption that comes with huge, centralized monopolies (which the government is, in many fields). It also comes at a critical time for the GOP. It needs a forward-looking message that can energize the base and reconnect with a broad electorate.
The GOP well ahead of the 2016 election have a solid message and then go looking for a messenger. Let the Democrats run celebrity candidates with no new ideas. The GOP can recapture the political energy and enthusiasm of the country while it takes its time finding the very best messenger for the party. At least, that’s what they hope will happen.
For all this we can say, well done gentlemen.