Former Bush White House advisers Mike Gerson, who was W's top speechwriter, and Pete Wehner, who worked on policy and strategic initiatives, are out today with the latest in a long line of articles on why the Republican party is in trouble, close on the heels of Robert Draper's piece this week in the New York Times magazine.
Gerson and Wehner's piece in Commentary magazine is, unsurprisingly, well-written, and includes some specific policy ideas that they think will help the GOP: pull a Roosevelt (Teddy) and break up the big banks; prison reform; an emphasis on worker training, and some others.
But the real strength of the piece is the historical perspectives they bring to the table. They go over the last few decades of presidential elections, and then trace the rebirth of the American Democratic Party led by Bill Clinton, and of the British Labour Party led by Tony Blair. The modern GOP, they argue, is in the same position and in the same need of dramatic reform.
The line that stood out to me was when they described the 2010 midterms, which marked the rise of the Tea Party.
"The resounding Republican midterm victory in 2010 now seems more like an aberration – a temporary backlash to presidential overreach – than evidence of an upward trend," Wehner and Gerson write.
That strikes me as the kind of big picture framing of the last few years that is in the territory of original thought. Maybe some have already concluded that. I certainly haven't heard too many on the right say it out loud. But it is a logical conclusion to reach after the results of last fall's election, as well as the historical context that Wehner and Gerson lay out.
For example, they point out that "out of the last six presidential elections, four have gone to the Democratic nominee, at an average yield of 327 electoral votes to 210 for the Republican."
By way of contrast: "During the preceding two decades, from 1968 to 1988, Republicans won five out of six elections, averaging 417 electoral votes to the Democrats' 113. In three of those contests, the Democrats failed to muster even 50 electoral votes."
Of course, the one Democrat to win during that period was Jimmy Carter, whose victory was due in large part to the stain of Watergate that Richard Nixon had left on his successor, Gerald Ford.
Some of Gerson and Wehner's proposals will raise eyebrows. They are both evangelical Christians, and so some in their camp to will no doubt wonder what exactly they mean when they write: "Republicans need to make their own inner peace with working with those who both support gay marriage and are committed to strengthening the institution of marriage."
Their advice on global warming is, in fact, where the GOP is heading on the issue. They argue that scientific evidence is clear that the planet is warming and that man contributes to this dynamic, but then say that "to acknowledge climate disruption need hardly lead one to embrace Al Gore's policy agenda."
"It is perfectly reasonable to doubt the merits of pushing for a global deal to cut carbon emissions--a deal that is almost surely beyond reach--and to argue instead for a focus on adaptation and investments in new and emerging technologies," they write.
"Confronting climate change is important in and of itself. It is also important as a matter of epistemology, to show that Republicans are not, in fact, at war with the scientific method. Only then will Republicans have adequate standing to criticize junk science when it's used as a tort weapon or as an obstacle to new energy technologies."
As for the GOP's political infrastructure, Gerson and Wehner argue for the creation of an organization similar to the Democratic Leadership Council, which pulled the Democratic Party toward the middle in the 80's and 90's. The bigger question is whether any organization, especially one based in Washington, can shape the Republican party, or any party, in a day when ideas and influence often come from the bottom up, from the grassroots, more than anything.
But the Democrats have shown that central organizations can play a role, pairing a dynamic, transformative candidate with an aggressive community organizing effort. Whether that's possible on the right is an open question. As Newt Gingrich told Sam Stein and I back in December: "One of the characteristics of the right is that it's much harder to have social networking, because people on the right like being iconoclastic."
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