How Can The GOP Detoxify Itself?

Last week, Nate Cohn suggested that Republicans “smooth out the many sharp edges of the GOP’s platform and message.” Some of his suggestions:

Keep supporting tax cuts and less regulation, but add an agenda and message aimed at the middle and working class. Remain pro-life, but don’t appear opposed to Planned Parenthood or contraceptives, and return to supporting exceptions in instances of rape or the health of the mother, as President Bush did. Stay committed to religion, but don’t reflexively doubt the science of evolution and global warming, or the promise of stem cell research or renewable energy. Oppose gun control, but why force yourself to oppose background checks? Oppose gay marriage if Republicans must, but could Republicans at least support civil unions? On all of these issues, the GOP need not compromise on its core policy objectives, but can’t afford to consistently stake out ground so far from the center.

But they won’t because moderation is anathema to them. They have become a doctrinal party in which doctrine is eternally true and cannot be changed – whether that is reflected by the view that tax cuts are the solution to every economic problem, that no accommodation to gays can be made at all, that climate change is a hoax, or that all abortion is cold-blooded murder, etc. Douthat pivots off these suggestions to argue against the Senate’s immigration bill:

Concessions on background checks would be at most a modest setback for the N.R.A., and it’s hard (at least for this pro-lifer) to see support for a rape-and-incest exception as devastating to the anti-abortion cause.

But, Ross. You aren’t, alas, the base. You’re capable of pragmatic adjustment, weighing the pros and cons, seeing the least worst option as a win. Have you ever heard that kind of argument on Fox News or Mark Levin or Rush Limbaugh? And do you really think the NRA – a lobby able to scupper modest changes in the wake of the murder of a score of school children – will decide that concessions for the sake of Republican victory is a sane strategy? What conceivable incentive do they have to do that when they get all they want anyway? Ross continues:

But from the vantage point of National Review or the Heritage Foundation or the Center for Immigration Studies (to cite a few places that take a restrictionist line on immigration), the Rubio-Schumer bill looks less like a modest setback, and more like a once-in-a-decade or even once-in-a-generation defeat.

What’s more, the fact that so many analysts, Cohn included, describe a vote for Rubio-Schumer as a vote to take the immigration issue “off the table” indicates that restrictionists are probably right to see it this way: Issues can go off the table because external circumstances changes (Cohn cites the example of the Cold War’s end), but when they are pushed off the table legislatively it’s usually a sign that one set of activists has basically won most of what they wanted, and their rivals have mostly lost.

Along the same lines, Ramesh recommends that the GOP pass a much more limited immigration bill:

The danger of a more sweeping amnesty is that it would encourage new illegal entrants by signaling that they will eventually be legalized, too. Congress should therefore hold off on that step while making sure that enforcement is up and running — and that the political forces that are supportive of amnesty have an incentive to make enforcement work rather than subvert it. Limited amnesty would be a good-faith gesture to show that the promise of future legalization isn’t merely words.

But Bernstein is unsure that scaled down immigration reform is possible:

Here’s the deal. Most Republicans, at the very least, want to pass something — so that they can deflect at least some of the blame for comprehensive reform failing, and at least to some extent because they really do support some legislation. But they can’t pass a comprehensive bill (at least not without relying on mostly Democratic votes), or even a mostly comprehensive bill. So the plan has been to pass a series of small bills that have wider support.

The problem? They may not have the votes for those, either.

Because they are not what Ross would like them to be. They’re fanatics, much more interested in the ideological posture of purity than the compromises of government. So they will block all compromise. They know not what else to do.