Tom Edsall at the New York Times argues that the Democrats should be worried because of "how far the Republican Party has traveled since issuing its self-critical post-2012 election report warning loyalists to stay off 'scary' issues."
He notes that the "Republican appropriation of leftist populist rhetoric (and even policies) poses a significant threat to liberal prospects in 2016." Even if the recent acceptance of the income gap as a problem hasn't been coupled with much legislation, Edsall says that the "2014 midterm elections demonstrated ... that relatively modest shifts in tone — carefully combined with cost-free proposals like making over-the-counter contraceptives available — could help Republican candidates defuse the accusation that their party is out of touch..."
I have observed these trends as well, flagging how Republicans were "leaning left" back in September, and how conservatives are now exerting pressure to get joke candidates off of the 2016 presidential primary field. There is no doubt Republicans are trying to clean up their act.
But let's not overstate "how far the Republican Party has traveled." Edsall cites one tax proposal by two Republican senators – sold as a middle-class friendly plan but actually more regressive reform, and some rhetoric from Jeb Bush.
While it was true that a little cosmetic tweaking was enough to win a midterm played on red turf, with economic frustrations boiling and with dull, vague Democratic messaging, 2016 is a whole new ballgame.
The electorate will be far more diverse. The economy may look and feel very different. And the level of scrutiny for Republicans will be exponentially greater. Republicans could get away with not proposing any ideas in 2014. That will be impossible for 2016.
There remains one obstacle that Republicans must overcome: reckon with their past failures. They are willing to blame Obama for all that currently ails the middle-class, but there has been zero accountability for how Republicans drove the economy off the cliff in 2008.
The question will be asked over and over: Why should we trust Republicans again? Why would we think more tax cuts and deregulation would work this time?
Republicans must have their reckoning, or they will never gain credibility.