The Republican National Committee, under new chairman Michael Steele, has quietly killed an ambitious plan to create the Center for Republican Renewal, a big in-house RNC think tank intended to develop new policies and ideas in order to take the party in a new direction, a Republican official who was directly informed of the decision by RNC staff tells me.
The Center’s goal was to help the GOP reclaim the mantle of the “party of ideas,” as RNC officials glowingly announced in December, and the decision to scrap it has some Republicans, including allies of former RNC chair Mike Duncan, its creator, wondering how precisely the RNC intends to generate the new ideas necessary to change course and renew itself.
Rosenberg mocks Steele’s apparent decision to give up on making the GOP the “party of ideas,” but I think Steele is smart not to waste money on this project. As I’ve written before, I share Matthew Yglesias’s view that the time for Republicans to implement effective new ideas was when they were in power.
Whether the Republicans come back in 2010 or 2012 has little to do with their ability to generate new ideas and everything to do with how Democrats govern.
If Democrats fail to deliver on big promises, the pendulum will swing back. If Democratic leaders succeed, no think-tank generated “new Republican ideas” will prevent a political realignment in our favor.
If only we could explain this concept to the Democrats in the U.S. Senate who are eager to strip from the stimulus bill the government spending that would help the economy by creating jobs (school reconstruction) or increasing consumer spending (more money for food stamps). Those same so-called “centrist” Democrats favor leaving in tax cuts that provide much less “bang for the buck” (tax credits for business, fixing the alternative minimum tax).
In the name of bipartisanship and compromise, Democrats in the Senate may approve a stimulus bill that won’t work. That will do more to revive the Republican Party than the think tank Michael Steele axed. Even if a handful of Senate Republicans vote for the stimulus, Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats will pay the price if the economy continues to decline.
President Obama deserves much of the blame for the sad turn the stimulus debate has taken. His negotiating strategy was deeply flawed, as debcoop and Theda Skocpol have explained. He should have started the debate on the stimulus with a much higher dollar number and a clear statement that he would not accede to failed Republican ideology.
I’ve noticed on these stimulus threads that some commenters think Obama would be acting too much like George W. Bush if he applied his political capital toward crafting a strong Democratic (rather than bipartisan) stimulus bill, and shaming a few Republicans into going along. I disagree. The most important thing for Obama is to pass a bill that will help the economy. Voters won’t give him points on style if the economy is still lousy in 2010 and 2012.
Bush’s mistake was not being partisan, but using his political capital to push through policies that failed miserably. If he had rammed bills through Congress that boosted our economy, improved the environment, kept our national debt from exploding and didn’t get us bogged down in an expensive war, he might have laid the groundwork for Republican realignment while his approval ratings were still very high.