Who is the “National Council for a New America”?
The “National Council for a New America” is a brand new public policy group led by prominent Republicans. The National Council for a New America is a rebranding effort on the part of these Republicans, who believe the party must stand for more than simple opposition to Barack Obama’s policies. Concerned about the post-election perception that they GOP is the “Party of No”, the National Council for a New America is seeking a new brand which discusses new policy ideas and welcomes more opinions into the party. Prominent members of the national council are Jeb Bush and John McCain, as well as Bobby Jindal, Mitt Romney and Haley Barbour.
In fact, many of the leading members of the Republican Party have signed on to participate in the National Council for a New America. This “national panel of experts” will report to Republican congressional leaders. Among the GOP leaders in Congress who are expected to sign their name to the NCNA’s formation announcement this week are Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate GOP #2 Jon Kyl, House Minority Leader John Boehner, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, House GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence and Senate GOP Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander. In other words, most of the GOP congressional leadership, several key Republican governors and several prominent retired Republicans are forming this organization to change the image of the National GOP.
Who Is the National Council for a New America and What are their ideas?
That’s yet to be determined. The National Council’s mission statement is to start a national debate on issues and encourage such a debate. The founders say they will welcome non-Republicans to their policy discussions. They are concerned with the perception that Republican leaders want a kind of ideological purity that marginalizes their party and drives moderates out of the GOP.
“Ideological purity” is what many conservative talk shows hosts like Rush Limbaugh call for. They want their conservatives to be conservative on every issue and call out Republicans who don’t. But Rush Limbaugh only has to draw an audience and ideological purity is good for ratings, since he appeals mainly to conservatives. Ideological purity doesn’t win national elections, though, because it alienates too many of the independent and moderate voters needed to swing close contests. Some Republicans have voiced the sentiment they would rather lose elections than compromise their principles, which appears to have frightened certain leaders of the party. Facing an uncertain future where they sit in a clear minority, GOP politicians on Capitol Hill and other Republicans have decided to seize the initiative on policy discussions away from Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity.
Republicans tend to have more squabbles about what it means to be a “true Republican”. Traditional conservatives would say that a conservative is someone who wants limited government or a more liberatarian view: lower taxes, fewer regulations, fewer overseas commitments. Fiscal conservatives want tax breaks for business interests, a sensible federal budget and measures to rein in the federal debt. A social conservative isn’t too much concerned about material matters: they want to end moral decline through pro-marriage and pro-life stances, as well as faith-based charity funding. The fact is, these various groups within the Republican Party are not going to always see eye-to-eye. Traditional conservatives wants to limit the power of government and they are likely to see “moral” uses of government, like federal control of reproductive rights, federal definitions of marriage and proactive use of military power to nation build and promote democracy as liberal uses of government. A fiscal conservative views military adventures as expensive drains on the budget, while social conservatives are likely to view fiscal conservatives as a bunch of big-money interests back east and just as concerned with material concerns as a liberal.
Each of these draw upon planks in the traditional GOP platform, but they are likely to see the others’ views as liberalism and not within the ideological purity of the party. All of these groups are likely to view their own stance as ideological purity, and many Republicans identify with more than one of these segments of their party. But when you try to meld these interests together, you often get illogical and even hypocritical policy positions. Scapegoating and an enemies list is great political theater, if not very good for political dialogue or solving the problems of the nation. Rush Limbaugh and conservative commentators are among the most successful at appealing to the varied interests of the GOP, because their platforms (radio, tv, books) allow for polemical arguments where there illogical positions go unchallenged. Rush Limbaugh might say a true Republican is someone who wants less government and tax cuts, but with an active, hardline foreign policy that promotes democracy. Limbaugh Republicans believe a true conservative is someone who always opposes liberals and chafes at the mainstream media and those Hollywood types.
That formula worked pretty well through the late 1990’s and most of this decade, but when less regulation leads to economic excesses and lower taxes lead to record deficits, that’s the time for a debate on these policies. When powerful Republicans refuse to learn from recent history and reconsider their stances in the name of ideological purity, then some leaders among the GOP were sure to create something like the National Council for a New America. Both political parties roll out plenty of spin and propaganda, but when you start to believe that spin (it’s not our fault; the liberals are to blame), then you cling to bad policies and losing strategies.
So Are the Republicans Going to Be a Permanent Minority Party?
Pundits and politicians tend to overstate the outcomes of the last election cycle. It was just four years ago where we saw reports that Karl Rove wanted to cement a permanent Republican majority in Congress, and those stories were taken seriously by people on both sides of the aisle. Only four years later and the Republicans have suffered major losses in two straight national elections (2006 mid-terms, 2008 presidential election), have lost control of both houses of Congress and face a young, popular Democratic president who will be tough to beat in 2012. That all happened in four years, so there’s no telling how the political winds will be blowing in 2012.
One reason the Republicans in Congress are getting the reputation as the “Party of No” is there isn’t much reason to sign on to the Obama reforms and stimulus packages. If those initiatives succeed, President Obama and the Congressional Democrats will get all the credit for those moves. The Republicans who voted along with them will largely be forgotten. But if those measures fail to produce results, if the Republicans stay at arms length, then all of the blame will fall on the Democrats. There really is every reason to be the party of “no”, besides the fact that the opposition party tends to stand in opposition and tends to have honest and long-standing differences of opinion on public policy initiatives.
Like Barack Obama said early on, if he fails to turn the economy around in three years, this country will have a new president in four years. And if Barack Obama’s stimulus packages appear to have stemmed the economic downturn and have the country pointed in the right direction, he will in all likelihood win reelection. That’s probably the way it should be: political success depending on policy success.
That’s why the Republicans are where they are right now. They had control of the White House for eight years and control of the Congress for the first six of those years, the Democrats had too small of a majority from 2006 to 2008 to beat a presidential veto. Taking all that into account, the American public decided the Republicans were to blame for most of the country’s recent problems. While Bill O’Reilly made a lot of Barney Frank’s 2005 speech about “no housing bubble”, that speech came in 2005 when Barney Frank simply couldn’t affect policy decisions unless a significant number of Republicans were also voting along with him. No one honestly thinks that Congressional Republicans were listening to Barney Frank when deciding how to vote. The Republicans got the blame for the policies or lack of policies that led to sub-prime mortgages and the global credit crash, so they got voted out of office. And since their policy ideas have been discredited for the moment, they are left with little to do than wring their hands about the Democrats’ proposed solutions.
So who is the National Council for a New America and is this something we should take seriously?
Maybe you should. American political history is full of political falls and the losing party rising from the ashes. If you lived through the New Deal years, it probably looked like the Democrats would never lose a national election. But the China fell to the Communists, the Russians got the bomb and the Truman Administration blundered into a major war versus China in Korea, so the American people decided that the country needed fresh Republican leadership in what looked like an increasingly dangerous world. When George Herbert Walker Bush had just won Desert Storm, it looked like he would have no trouble extending the Republican White House control to 16 years. But a year-and-a-half later, Bill Clinton was the new president-elect. And we’ve already covered how the American political scene looked 4 years ago.
When a party receives a major drubbing, then the old leadership is edged aside and new leaders emerge. The historical Goldwater loss in 1964 is now seen as the year that the modern Republican Party began to take shape. No one seriously thought after Kerry’s loss in 2004 that Barack Obama would emerge as a serious presidential candidate in 2008, much less the winner. The Republican Party looks devoid of leadership at the moment. New leadership will emerge in time, probably with a slightly different game plan and slightly different policies for a new generation.
The Democrats will say that this is a cynical ploy to give a different shine to the same old failed policies, that this is putting lipstick on a pig (I think we’ve heard that one before). That could very well be the case. But let’s give the Republicans forming the National Council for a New America credit that they are intelligent men and women just as puzzled as everyone else that the wheels have come off. If that’s the case, they might actually be searching for new solutions, realizing that conservative principle doesn’t have to mean a stubborn refusal to learn from mistakes. Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have had their way for the past eight years, but now it’s time for the adults to take over. At least that’s what it appears the GOP leadership is saying by forming the National Council for a New America.
For the moment, the National Council for a New America looks a lot like the old leadership of the party: Romney, McCain, Boehner, McConnell. In a way, this looks like the old guard of the GOP trying to rebrand their old policies to maintain or reassert their control of the party. But along with these men, new faces are being added to the mix, and even more faces are likely to emerge in the coming years. So when you ask if we should take the National Council for a New America seriously, I would say maybe.