"Reform conservatives" take on GOP

The reformers say they want to move the GOP beyond its Reagan-era script of cutting taxes and shrinking government and toward a focus on what a more limited government can and should do, especially for the middle class. For the most part, they’ve shopped their ideas around informally, through private conversations and journal articles. But recently they took a more organized approach, releasing a 121-page policy manifesto called “Room to Grow.”

That move dramatically raised their profiles — and drew out the skeptics.

Conservative columnist Michael Gerson has praised the group, arguing it has “more potential influence” than the tea party. But liberal critics, such as columnists E.J. Dionne and Jonathan Chait, have questioned how effective the reformists can be at a time when the Republican Party has expunged many of its moderates and the base is animated by the notion that government is always a problem. Some observers, meanwhile, compare them to the New Democrats of the 1990s, a parallel the intellectuals resist.

The reform conservatives argue there’s no need to lure the GOP to the middle and no desire to further splinter it. (They’re not even sure who came up with their group’s label, though Gerson has used the phrase, or a version of it, for at least two years.) If anything, they say, their ideas would “reform” broken institutions by pushing them to the right.