One More Time, Same as Before!

I am going to a Marco Rubio town hall in NH this weekend. I know he doesn’t often take audience questions (much to Chris Christie’s dismay), but if he does, here’s my question:

Senator Rubio, your policy platform largely mirrors the standard GOP greatest hits of the last thirty years: tax cuts skewed towards the higher end, promises to undo burdensome business regulations and roll back government programs, hawkish foreign policy, defense of traditional values, and a signalling of discomfort with the changing demographics and cultural mores of the country (“take our country back”). In fact, thanks to the Trump effect, I think it’s fair say the perception of GOP antipathy to immigrants and minorities is stronger than ever.

This platform was defeated in 2008 and 2012 by a solid margin in the electoral college; in 2012 under far more favorable economic circumstances from a GOP political perspective. And in the longer view, the Republican party has lost 5 of the last 6 national popular votes. It’s Reagan’s party but not Reagan’s country.

You may say these are eternal principles. But on the national level, they’re also losing principles. Why do you think this same platform will be successful this year all of a sudden, when the economy is far improved from four years ago, and the non-white share of the electorate grows larger every year?

This question applies to every Republican candidate to varying degrees. After the 2012 election, the RNC published its now-infamous autopsy report, the good ol’ Growth and Opportunity Report, in which it recommended moderation of the party’s economic and social agenda, with a special emphasis on minorities and immigration, in order to appeal to a larger demographic, or to at least to stop explicitly alienating the bulk of the non-old, non-white population. Some candidates, including Rubio, Jeb Bush, and Rand Paul, indeed had initial plans to inject some heterodoxy into the sclerotic GOP platform during the primary, but, well, it wasn’t exactly the right year for moderation, to say the least. The Growth and Opportunity report was a dead letter even when it came out, and is even deader now.

There is a theory out there that says the Republican party should be content with the following arrangement: continue to dominate Congress in midterm elections, and hold the majority of State governorships and legislatures, while more or less conceding the White House to the Democrats. This would give them substantial political power in the states, where real policy is made anyhow, and plenty of power in DC to make life hell for any Democratic president. And once in a while they’d get lucky and win the White House anyway, because hey, it’s a two-party system.

This would allow them to avoid the painful modernization project necessary to become competitive for the presidency. They could just embrace their white identity, trickle-down core, and just drop all the moderation and modernization stuff in which GOP voters clearly have no interest.

Whether they explicitly choose this strategy or not, it’s basically the one they seem to be going with. It’s just that Rubio et al. seem to not realize it.

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