For a while, they thought they had found their wonk hero in the person of Mr. Ryan. But the famous Ryan plan turned out to be crude smoke and mirrors, and I suspect that even conservatives privately realize that its author is more huckster than visionary. So what’s the next big idea?
Enter libertarian populism. The idea here is that there exists a pool of disaffected working-class white voters who failed to turn out last year but can be mobilized again with the right kind of conservative economic program — and that this remobilization can restore the Republican Party’s electoral fortunes.
You can see why many on the right find this idea appealing. It suggests that Republicans can regain their former glory without changing much of anything — no need to reach out to nonwhite voters, no need to reconsider their economic ideology. You might also think that this sounds too good to be true — and you’d be right. The notion of libertarian populism is delusional on at least two levels.
First, the notion that white mobilization is all it takes rests heavily on claims by the political analyst Sean Trende that Mitt Romney fell short last year largely because of “missing white voters” — millions of “downscale, rural, Northern whites” who failed to show up at the polls. Conservatives opposed to any major shifts in the G.O.P. position — and, in particular, opponents of immigration reform — quickly seized on Mr. Trende’s analysis as proof that no fundamental change is needed, just better messaging.