Democrats, meanwhile, have successfully defended and expanded the entitlement state. Near-universal health care, the holy grail of the American left, is at hand, and the administrative state has grown large and unaccountable. The most recent Republican presidential nominee ran against Democratic cuts to Medicare.
Yes, both parties have made sacrifices along the way. And of course, there is still more both parties say they would like to accomplish. But it’s more of the same. The parties are like middle-aged couples who find themselves in the jobs they always wanted, the homes they hoped they’d have, or at least pretty close. There are still new projects to run and renovations to complete, taxes to be cut and programs to be expanded, but the task is no longer to build toward something. It’s to defend what’s already been done.
One key difference between the two parties, however, is that some Republicans have realized that they are spinning their wheels, and are looking for a way to escape. Hence the various factions vying for a new path forward: Libertarian populists, conservative reformers, neocon revivalists, security-state skeptics, other right-leaning entreprenuers all start from a shared assumption that the Republican party’s policy ammunition is largely spent. The party needs a new story, a new framework, and new ideas to drive it.