In his appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Democratic strategist James Carville was asked what the Republican Party has to do in order to recover. Mr. Carville pointed out that “It’s hard when you’re a congressional party.” What he meant by that is that without a titular head, a party is relatively undisciplined and often sounds cacophonous. The press will focus on the most outrageous statements made by backbenchers, which leads to responsible members of the party often finding themselves with “a fist in your forehead.”
That’s a fair point. At the same time, a period like the Republican Party is in right now can also lead to some intellectual creativity, with good ideas being generated by governors and members of Congress. Wilderness years can help a party that has become ideologically rigid and somewhat out of touch with the changing nature of America. As Rod Dreher pointed out in a recent symposium in COMMENTARY, in the short run political cohesion and effectiveness have their advantages, but this can be “a disaster for a party that needs–as every party does–to have its intellectual base replenished by fresh, creative discussion and argument.”
I also agree with Carville and “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough that a strong leader eventually needs to emerge to help the GOP regain its political footing. But that will have to wait at least until the next presidential cycle, which is still a ways off.
Until then, Republicans have to do the best they can given the situation in which they find themselves. And this can be–it actually is–an intellectually interesting moment for the GOP and conservative movement, which are engaged in fairly searching and healthy re-examinations. More needs to be done (Ross Douthat explains why here). Still, reactionary liberalism seems to me to be exhausted and unequipped to address the problems of the 21stcentury. Which means on the national level the Republican Party and conservatism will have their chance again. When it comes, readiness will be all.