by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Yuval Levin shares with Weekly Standard readers his concern that Republicans might eye Democrats’ recent national electoral success and try to poach some ideas from the Democratic Parry.
There is precedent for such a response to political troubles. In the late 1980s, a group of centrist Democrats concluded that their party had to adopt the essentials of Ronald Reagan’s economic vision if it was to appeal to voters again, and their efforts ultimately bore fruit with Bill Clinton’s election.
But the analogy to that era understates both the challenge the GOP now faces and the opportunity it confronts. The fact is that the public is not much happier with the Democrats than with the Republicans, and that neither party has offered a compelling policy agenda for addressing America’s challenges in this era of stagnation and uncertainty.
The president’s approval rating now hovers around the share of the vote that Mitt Romney won in November, and congressional Democrats receive approval ratings in the low 30s. It would be odd to look to a party the public barely tolerates for guidance on how to appeal to voters. And the 2012 campaign offers cautionary lessons but few constructive insights. The president effectively combined cynical attacks on his opponent’s character with microtargeted pandering to various slivers of the population, but he offered no agenda for addressing the public’s deep concerns. The Republicans, meanwhile, sought to benefit from his failure to allay those concerns, but they did not offer their own path to allaying them.
There is no model to look to: Both parties give the impression of having outlived their eras. The moment feels more like the late 1970s than the late 1980s. And if Republicans are to regain their balance and lead the country again, they will have to develop an agenda for national renewal that speaks to today’s policy challenges and to the sources of voters’ anxieties.