The Choice Before The Republican Party: Grow or Die

Bill Scher

The Choice Before Republican Primary Voters was Laid Bare by Conservative Pundit Matt Lewis, as Reported by The new York Times:

Mr. Bush proudly tells of having ended racial preferences at Florida’s universities, but in the next breath adds, as he said in February, that the state wound up with “more African-American and Hispanic kids attending our university system” than before. Mr. Walker wins applause by noting his efforts to require drug tests of people receiving public assistance, and uses language reminiscent of old, loaded appeals about indolent welfare recipients…

…“One is a populist strategy that doubles down on turning out disaffected white men,” Mr. Lewis said … “The other is a gamble that conservatism can win in the free market of ideas amongst a diverse and changing 21st-century America,” Mr. Lewis said of Mr. Bush’s approach.”

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent notes there still isn’t much differentiating Bush and Walker in their policy positions: “…Walker may employ harsher rhetoric about the safety net than Bush does, but the evidence suggests that both are animated by the underlying worldview that one of the primary problems in American life is that we have too much government-engineered downward redistribution of wealth.”

Still, Bush’s eager embrace of providing legal status to undocumented immigrants, in contrast to Walker’s newfound embrace of “no amnesty” rhetoric, is a significant divergence.

Bush has done very little to earn the “moderate” label but he at least recognizes the only way for the Republican Party to grow is to connect with voters that currently are not Republicans. Bush needed to navigate a diverse state to win his elections, so this understanding comes to him more easily. Walker’s path couldn’t be more different, exploiting a deeply polarized state and never going outside the comfort zone of his conservative base. He shows no signs of changing that formula.

If Jeb refuses to make a substantive break with his brother’s failed presidency, he will remain a deeply flawed candidate. So it’s understandable that Republican primary voters are not quickly to jump on his diversity-powered bandwagon. But the seductively cozy blanket of homogeneousness that Walker offers should terrify all Republicans concerned about their party’s ability to compete in the 21st century.

A healthy Republican primary would feature a competition of ideas to reach those presently outside the narrow Republican tent, with multiple candidates trying to better Jeb Bush’s thin, if well-meaning, appeals. If you see candidates desperately trying to out dog-whistle Walker’s anti-welfare rants or out-gridlock Sen. Ted Cruz on the Senate floor, you know the Republican Party is not ready for its close-up.

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