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All this almost certainly dooms the faint chances of a bipartisan grand bargain over the federal budget at least for now. Given the current balance of political forces, this may not be such a bad thing. But it also discourages Republicans from mounting any serious effort to redesign America's archaic and destructive tax system in ways that would make it generate more revenues while inflicting, at least in some respects, less pain. In that connection, one avenue worth exploring is the introduction of some sort of federal consumption tax, partially offset by a lower, flatter, simpler income tax. From time to time, some Republican leaders have floated variants of this, including Ryan and former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels (one of the more disappointing absentees from the 2012 race). Even Mitt Romney refused to rule out the introduction of a value added tax, a position that led a staffer from the reliably shrill Newt Gingrich campaign to snipe that Romney had been looking at "European socialist ideas". A somewhat more subtle critique has come from Norquist, long suspicious of a tax that he believes to be too efficient a money-raising machine to be trusted.

So what else is there? Republican Senator Mike Lee (Utah), cheered on by the likes of Ponnuru and the AEI's James Pethokoukis (someone, incidentally, open to a consumption tax) is arguing for a redrawing of the tax system that incorporates a very substantial expansion of child tax credit. This family-friendly move, part of a broader drive in, to quote Ponnuru, a more "communitarian" direction, is unlikely to fly this time round, but it points to a possible future for the GOP as something closer to Western Europe's Christian Democrats. Such an evolution in my view is not particularly desirable, but given America's changing political environment, may be wise.

A better guide to what may come next comes from Pethokoukis's observation in National Review Online that the 2012 campaign saw a plethora of tax-cutting proposals by Republican hopefuls seemingly "more interested in signalling their supply-side bona fides to primary voters than in offering realistic blueprints for governance". 

Ah yes, the primaries: the road to the nomination runs, of course, right through them, and I mean Right. White evangelicals and Tea Party supporters (they are not always the same people) represent a very large percentage — well over a half — of the primary vote. They are not in the mood for compromise. According to a July 2013 Pew Center survey, 69 per cent of Tea Partiers believe that the best course of action for the GOP is to move in an even more conservative direction. To design an alternative to Obamacare and a plausible budgetary fix that both manage to appeal to those voters and have a chance of convincing the wider national electorate is a very tall order, and that's before we have begun to look at the question of the so-called "social issues" (primarily abortion and same-sex marriage) that weigh so heavily in Republican primaries. 

The rise of the Tea Party was a classic populist insurgency, a revolt of country against court, propelled by disgust over the bailouts that followed the financial crisis, anxiety over the state of America's finances, contempt for the Republican establishment and fear of what Obama might be planning. It revitalised a party sunk in deep depression after Obama's trouncing of John McCain, and made an enormous contribution to the GOP's bounce in the 2010 midterms. The contrast with the not entirely dissimilar folk at UKIP "pissing into" (to borrow LBJ's entertaining terminology) the Tory tent is one that British Conservatives tut-tutting over the Tea Party would do well to note. As revolts tend to do, however, the Tea Party has not infrequently overshot, most notably by promoting candidates more on the basis of their ideological purity than their ability to win. 

In doing so, they were encouraged by a segment of the conservative hierarchy already, ironically, well entrenched in Washington. To a degree unimaginable in the UK, the Right in America has a lively, powerful and well-financed intellectual, media and political infrastructure. That's generally to the good, but it has come at a price. One or two speakers at the Yale conference complained about conservative neglect of that most essential of political skills — persuasion. Instead of reaching out to the unconvinced, conservatives have primarily been pursuing a conversation with themselves. Such conversations have a way of degenerating into a contest designed primarily to show who can be more pur and who more dur.

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December 28th, 2013
12:12 AM
The Republican Party is a big tent and the party that ended slavery and Democrat sponsored segregation in the south. To suggest that the Republicans can not appeal to minorities is absurd and Christie will show us how.

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