Repub­li­cans move in right di­rec­tion to re­vive party

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Sen.

Marco Ru­bio won the Jack Kemp Foun­da­tion’s Lead­er­ship Award last week. In his speech ac­cept­ing the award, he sketched out his Repub­li­can vi­sion. Some of the poli­cies he men­tioned were pretty con­ven­tional for some­one of his party: lim­it­ing reg­u­la­tions, ap­prov­ing the Key­stone XL Pipe­line. Some were less con­ven­tional: cre­at­ing more com­mu­nity health cen­ters, in­vest­ing in more teacher train­ing, em­brac­ing Pell grants.

But the speech really be­gan to sing to­ward the end. Ru­bio made an oblique re­but­tal to some of the Repub­li­can gaffes dur­ing the cam­paign: “Some say that our prob­lem is that the Amer­i­can peo­ple have changed. That too many peo­ple want things from government. But I am con­vinced that the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of our peo­ple just want what my par­ents had: a chance.”

Then he re­called an episode: “I was giv­ing a speech at a fancy ho­tel in New York City. When I ar­rived at the ban­quet hall, I was ap­proached by a group of three uni­formed em­ploy­ees from the ho­tel’s ca­ter­ing de­part­ment. They had seen my speech at the Repub­li­can con­ven­tion, where I told the story of my fa­ther the ban­quet bar­tender. And they had a gift for me. They pre­sented me with this name tag, which says, “Ru­bio, Ban­quet Bar­tender.”

As he was telling this story, Ru­bio mo­tioned to some of the ser­vice staff at the Kemp din­ner. They stopped to lis­ten to him.

“It all starts with our peo­ple,” Ru­bio con­tin­ued. “In the kitchens of our ho­tels. In the land­scap­ing crews that work in our neigh­bor­hoods. In the latenight jan­i­to­rial shifts that clean our of­fices. There you will find the dreams Amer­ica was built on. There you will find the prom­ise of to­mor­row. Their jour­ney is our na­tion’s des­tiny. And if they can give their chil­dren what our par­ents gave us, the 21st cen­tury Amer­ica will be the sin­gle great­est na­tion that man has ever known.”

Peo­ple at the din­ner say that there was a hushed si­lence for a sec­ond as Ru­bio con­cluded with this re­frain. Then a roar­ing ova­tion swelled and filled the room.

The Repub­li­can Party has a long way to go be­fore it re­vives it­self as a ma­jor­ity party. But that speech sig­ni­fies a moment in that re­vival. And the past month has marked a moment.

Over the past month, the Repub­li­can Party has changed far more than I ex­pected. First, the peo­ple at the ide­o­log­i­cal ex­tremes of the party have be­gun to self-ghet­toize. The tea party

Kath­leen Parker

David Brooks

Ross Douthat

Ramesh Ponnuru move­ment at­tracted many peo­ple who are drawn to black-and-white cer­tain­ties and lock-step unity. Peo­ple like that have a ten­dency to mi­grate from main­stream pol­i­tics, which is in­evitably messy and im­pure, to ever more mar­ginal oases of pu­rity.

Jim DeMint, for ex­am­ple, is leav­ing the Se­nate to go the Her­itage Foun­da­tion. He is leav­ing the cen­ter of the ac­tion, where im­mi­gra­tion, tax and other re­forms will be crafted, for a po­lit­i­cal ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion known more for ide­o­log­i­cal pu­rity and fundrais­ing prow­ess than for cre­ativ­ity, cu­rios­ity or in­tel­lec­tual in­no­va­tion.

Sec­ond, pol­i­tics is be­ing re­born. For a time, Repub­li­can can­di­dates like Richard Mour­dock of In­di­ana proudly de­clared that they didn’t be­lieve in com­pro­mise. Po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists spent more time purg­ing de­vi­a­tion­ists than in try­ing to at­tract new con­verts.

But that ma­nia has passed. There are in­creas­ing signs that House Repub­li­cans are will­ing to unite be­hind Speaker John Boehner so he can cut a deal to avert the “fis­cal cliff.” There has been an epi­demic of open-mind­ed­ness as Repub­li­cans try to win mi­nor­ity votes and cre­ate a ver­sion of their party that can be com­pet­i­tive in states like Con­necti­cut and Cal­i­for­nia.

Fi­nally, there has even been some shift­ing of eco­nomic val­ues, or at least in how the party presents those val­ues. The other speaker at the Kemp din­ner was Rep. Paul Ryan, who spoke about how to al­le­vi­ate poverty. He didn’t aban­don any of his fun­da­men­tal be­liefs, but he framed those be­liefs in a more wel­com­ing way and opened up room for growth and new think­ing.

The obli­ga­tions to com­bat poverty, Ryan said, are be­yond dis­pute.

“The real de­bate is how best we can meet them,” he said. “It’s whether they are bet­ter met by pri­vate groups or by government — by vol­un­tary ac­tion or by government ac­tion. The truth is, there has to be a bal­ance. Government must act for the com­mon good, while leav­ing pri­vate groups free to do the work that only they can do.”

Like Ru­bio, Ryan pro­jected a more balanced and at­trac­tive vi­sion.

The Repub­li­cans may still blow it. If Pres­i­dent Barack Obama is flex­i­ble and they don’t meet him part­way, Repub­li­cans would con­trib­ute to a re­ces­sion that would dis­credit them for a decade. But they are mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion and mov­ing fast. Th­ese are first steps, and en­cour­ag­ing ones.

Amity Shlaes Charles Krautham­mer

Ge­orge Will

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