As it emerges from the electoral rubble, the Republican Party must decide what it actually believes in before beginning rebuilding its battered fortune.
On one side is a growing chorus that believes Republicans need to become more like—well, Democrats. In books like “Grand New Party,” by Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam; “Heroic Conservatism,” by Michael Gerson; and “Comeback: Conservatism that can Win,” by David Frum, big‐government conservatives have argued for a more activist federal government that embraces the goals, and sometimes even the means, of liberalism.
In their opinion, the public is no longer amenable to the traditional Republican message of lower taxes and limited government in an age of economic insecurity. To be successful, they say, Republicans must compete with Democrats to give voters what they want, be it national health care, more government spending or a bailout on their mortgages. Their arguments are perhaps best summed up by Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, who told the Minneapolis Star‐Tribune that “the era of small government is over.” And, they say, Republicans need to adapt to this new reality even if it means abandoning traditional conservative principles.
On the other side of this debate are those who believe that Republicans lost precisely because they abandoned their principles and commitment to limited government. These include young House leaders like Reps. Mike Pence and Jeff Flake of Arizona and Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Those arguing for a return to smaller government say that after eight years of a Bush administration that increased federal spending faster than any president since Lyndon Johnson, created the first new entitlement program in 40 years, increased federal control over education, and added 7,000 pages of new regulation to the Federal Register, Republicans had lost the ability to differentiate themselves from Democrats.