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Did He Steal Their Agenda?

Mara Liasson on Fox News Sunday observed:

You know, fiscal responsibility — there are a whole bunch of issues that Republicans are going to have to come up with answers for. They were successful on taxes. Look at Obama. He ran as a tax cutter. They were successful on crime and welfare reform and strong defense. Obama wants to increase the size of the military.But what about global warming? What about income inequality? What about immigration — I mean, in terms of the importance of the Hispanic vote? There’s a whole bunch of new issues that Republicans are going to have to come up with conservative solutions for and not just fall back on, you know, fiscal responsibility, low taxes.

She is right that Barack Obama ran on some issues not associated with liberalism, including tax cuts and expanding the military. However (and it is a big however), it is not at all clear that he is going to fulfill those promises, including the one about going “line by line” through the federal budget. So if conservatives were right that Obama ran a disingenuous campaign, there will be plenty of room to reclaim that center-right agenda. If, however, he continues the rightward march, the GOP will be scratching their heads and wondering how their agenda was confiscated by a liberal from Chicago.

Liasson’s other main point — the need for Republicans to expand their agenda — is on the money. John McCain was not able to do it. Republicans will have to do better. But these involve very hard choices and very big fights. Will the conservative Mandarins and the talk show ringleaders go into open rebellion again if party reformers move on immigration reform? (Mike Pence’s plan looks pretty darn good, in retrospect.) And when a certain segment of the party doesn’t agree there is such a thing as man-made global warming or that income inequality is a problem, it is going to be hard to reach consensus.

None of that is to say that it is not possible to innovate. But those who are calling for innovation should be prepared to defend the “heretics” whose innovations and suggestions do not meet with past party orthodoxies. And those who want to lead the party should, well, lead. And they should not be dissuaded by the howls of the establishment when they spot deviations from the party hymnal. That’s what reform and innovation are about — breaking with accepted wisdom. The other option is to change nothing –and keep losing elections.


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