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RNC chair: All those issues we lost on in 2012 are really winners for us

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Jed Lewison flags a remarkable moment on MSNBC today that illustrates yet again that the GOP “makeover” really consists of changing the party’s position on immigration reform and nothing else.

The MSNBC host presses RNC chair Reince Priebus on whether the party is really changing, given its continued fealty to the Paul Ryan fiscal vision (in my view, this is one of the central obstacles to any real change):

Priebus’s response:

“We’re not losing the issues on the math. We’re not losing the issues on spending, and debt, and jobs, and the economy. Those are total winners for us. What we found in the election is that while we’re winning those arguments on spending and math, we’re losing this sort of emotional, cultural vote out there in presidential elections.”

Maybe I’m misremembering, but wasn’t the 2012 election all about those very same issues that Priebus claims are “total winners” for the GOP? For months, the two parties fought it out over how much we should cut spending, the priorities that should dictate how we tackle the debt, and whether jobs are created by downsizing government and slashing tax rates on the rich or whether we should invest more in education, infrastructure, clean energy and research to create jobs and ensure long term economic security for the middle class. The whole election was an argument over what kind of economy we want. The GOP vision on all these issues lost decisively. Yet here is Priebus, telling us that they are “winners” for the GOP, only two days after Republicans released a massive new investigation into what went wrong.

Meanwhile, Priebus’ claim that Republicans lost because of the “emotional, cultural vote” carries echoes of the deeply flawed theory of the race that drove GOP strategy throughout the campaign. Remember, Republicans confidently predicted swing voters would finally “break up” with Obama over the economy. The premise was that their support for the President could only be emotional or symbolic, and couldn’t possibly be rooted in substantive agreement with him or in the calculation — despite their disappointment with the sluggish recovery — that Obama was offering a better set of ideas for fixing the economy over the long haul than Mitt Romney was. This turned out to be a disastrous miscalculation.

As for the suggestion of a “cultural vote,” it’s true that Obama managed to bring out huge numbers of minorities, young voters, and socially liberal upscale whites, particularly women. And surely the GOP’s refusal to evolve on cultural issues — and issues important to minorities and women — helps explain this. But isn’t it also possible that these constituencies broadly agree with Obama and Democrats on the big ideological questions about the proper role of government and who should pay for it? Mightn’t they be alienated by the GOP vision on these issues, which is best expressed in the Paul Ryan fiscal blueprint that Republicans have doubled down on again — and which Priebus defends as a “winner” for them?

What this really suggests is that GOP officials don’t believe the base is willing to accept any sort of rethink on the core governing questions — on the size and role of government, on the proper level of progressivity in the tax code, on how (or whether) government should act to fix the economy and combat runaway inequality — that remain at the heart of our continuing stalemate.