Question Day: Post-Policy Republicans and the States

Not the model. 

Commenter Mavis Beacon asks:

"You've written a lot about the post-policy GOP and while there seems to be something post policy about the national GOP, state and local Republicans seem to be behaving normally. Do you think that's correct, and, if so, why do you think this is?"

Great question; I wish I knew the answer.

To begin, by "post-policy" I mean that the party has in many cases simply given up formulating substantive public policy, choosing instead to advance symbolic proposals. So, for example, more than four years after passage of the Affordable Care Act, Republicans have no "replace" bill on health care reform, despite constant claims, since 2011, that one was coming. They never produced even a tax reform bill, despite claiming that tax reform is a high priority. Meanwhile, party budgets are filled with magic asterisks to gloss over fiscal impossibilities. That doesn't mean that congressional Republicans have foresaken holding any policy positions, but their substantive agenda consists mostly of opposing Democratic plans.

What about state and local Republicans? I don't follow state politics closely enough to know, but it does seem that the failure of most Republican state governments to negotiate conservative versions of Medicaid expansion suggests they, too, are more interested in symbolic politics than actually governing. And I should add one more time: I do not believe that there's anything inherent in conservative thought or in the Republican Party that makes viable policy impossible. Several Republican governors and their legislatures earned reputations twenty years ago for policy innovation. I don't believe today's Republicans can claim similar records, but I don't really know enough about it to be confident of whether that's correct.

Certainly, some Republican governors and legislators have attempted to tackle real public policy (including reducing taxes). And if laying off government workers is a vital policy goal, they've done that, too. But it can be difficult to score some efforts. Is Texas Governor Rick Perry's current National Guard mobilization a serious attempt to solve a problem? Or is it a symbolic effort designed mainly to boost his presidential campaign?

If Republicans in the states they control are proving capable of, and interesting in, advancing real public policy, then perhaps the trouble with Washington Republicans is related to being in the minority. If not, then that suggests the problem goes a lot deeper.

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