The Power of Ideas
by Tom Donelson on November 3, 2011 at 2:26 PM
This election is the idea election, and it is an election in which political parties are changing as liberalism and conservatism are being redefined for the 21st century. The Tea Party has driven the Republican agenda and Occupy Wall Street protesters are the street activists for the hard left that dominate the Democratic Party apparatus. I made the point in earlier blogs that the Democratic Party has evolved into a Party of the left with its moderate wing emasculated in the last election.
For the Republicans, this is an election in which the grassroots drive the agenda and the establishment merely hangs on to its power. In the early 90’s, Pat Buchanan talked of storming the castle, but social conservative Ralph Reed reminded his fellow evangelicals that they were already in the castle that was getting stormed by Buchanan’s army. The good news is that much of the Republican establishment is conservative, so the issue is not whether the GOP will be the Party of smaller government, but the Party on tactics. Just look at the Romney's campaign, and while much of the Republican base doesn’t trust Romney, he has been running to the right. I find it more comforting when a moderate Republicans turns right than the other way around. The establishment is willing to deal with Romney; the grassroots are not yet sold on the concept. For the establishment, it is Buckley rule, vote for the most conservative candidate to win. For the grassroots, they are not convinced that Romney is the only conservative who can win.
This brings us to the election of ideas. The reason that Gingrich and Cain have risen in the polls is that they have put forward new ideas while others have run more traditional campaigns. As mention in a previous column, Cain’s idea can be summarized as 9-9-9 and when he adjusted his tax plan for lower income workers, it became 9-0-9. Gingrich has always been a man of ideas, and during the debate, he has been able to distill those ideas. Michele Bachmann has yet to come up with an economic plan that drives the imagination of the grassroots. There are several reasons that she has fallen. Certainly, Cain's personality has played a role, but his tax plans showed imagination as part of a long term plan. Bachmann's plan reads like a typical Republican's plans, similar to what has been said, but hardly new or original. Rick Santorum's website is hardly illuminating when it comes to specific ideas other than he is a friend of the taxpayers. So both Bachmann has lost her place and Santorum has yet to catch fire with the grassroots.
Perry learned this lesson as he introduced his own tax plans; and if he can defend it, he can get himself into the race for the plan has many pluses. Ideas are driving this primary system and the GOP will be better because of it. Over the past year, the GOP has been the party of the idea; something the average voter has not been aware of. Obama has merely doubled down on Keynesian economics on steroids. Whatever ideas that Democrats have, relies on government knowing best.
What Republicans do have is ideas, and those ideas have propelled the campaign. For the Republicans not just to win but to govern effectively, they must have ideas to govern. What the primary voters have reacted to with Cain is the power of ideas. Cain, and to a lesser extent, Gingrich and Perry, have the power of ideas whereas Romney promises competency. Competency may be enough to win, but it will not be enough to govern after January, 2013.