The Weak Political Case for GOP Reform

Marion Doss / Flickr

In today's Washington Post, Republican scribe Michael Gerson makes yet another case for Republican reform:

A Republican recovery in presidential politics will depend on two factors. First, candidates will need to do more than rebrand existing policy approaches or translate them into Spanish. Some serious rethinking is necessary, particularly on economic matters. In our Commentary essay, we raise ideas such as ending corporate welfare, breaking up the mega-banks, improving the treatment of families in the tax code, and encouraging economic mobility through education reform and improved job training. Whatever form Republican proposals eventually take, they must move beyond Reagan-era nostalgia.

The more I think about it, the more I think this is wrongheaded. Obviously, there's a substantive case for Republican reform—eventually, the GOP will win the White House, and it will need a serious governing agenda. But the political case for reform is much weaker.

Yes, Barack Obama was the first Democrat since Franklin Roosevelt to win two terms with the majority of the public behind him. But there was nothing remarkable about his re-election margin: In the end, he won 51.1 percent of the popular vote, to Mitt Romney's 47.2 percent. Four points (or 3.9 ) isn't much in the realm of presidential politics. For this past election, it comes to just under five million votes. If the economy were contracting last year, I have no doubt that Romney could have won five million additional votes.

In other words, the Republican loss last year has more to do with outside conditions than it does with anything intrinsic to the party. I'd go even further: Given how normal it is for a party to lose the White House for eight years, it's still unclear how much reform the GOP actually needs. If the economy is faltering at the end of Obama's term, and the GOP has recovered lost ground with some minority groups, a Senator Marco Rubio could run with Mitt Romney's platform and still win.

As I said earlier this week, we still have another presidential cycle to go before substantive changes to the Republican Party begin to make political sense. GOP reformers should continue to make their case, but they shouldn't be surprised if it continues to fall on deaf ears.