Alex Massie

Reformers vs Traditionalists

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Here's how Ramesh Ponnuru frames the debate:

The traditionalists push for upper-income tax cuts. The reformers want to cut the payroll taxes paid by the middle class. Traditionalists often deny that global warming is real. Reformers just want to make sure that our answer to it is cost-effective. The traditionalists want to hold the line on government spending. The reformers think that it's more important for Republicans to advocate market-friendly solutions to problems such as rising health-care costs and traffic congestion.

Since Ponnuru's argument ends up by siding with Limbaugh and the traditionalists, it's curious that he should define the argument in a way that does such damage to his own "team". After all, on each of these issues the reformers are more in tune with public opinion than the traditionalists. Nor are any of the reformers ideas obviously "unconservative".

Ponnuru then argues that David Brooks, David Frum et al still need Rush Limbaugh and his followers. But where are the reformers arguing that the GOP must ditch the base? They don't exist. The reform argument is that the base is not enough and that changing times require a change in attitude and, sometimes, approach. It's the traditionalists who argue that they can manage fine without the reformers. Ponnuru says that "If the reformers succeed, it will be by persuading traditionalists such as Limbaugh, not bulldozing over them" and this is obviously true. First, however, you have to persuade the traditionalists that there is a problem that might be more difficult to solve than simply returning to the songsheet that worked so well for Ronald Reagan. That is to say that if the traditionalists want a future they probably need the reformers too.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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