First, the 2012 election exposed the fact that, to survive, the GOP really does need new ideas. Second, a man like Paul Ryan went from being a congressman little known outside the Beltway to a figure of national prominence to a spot on a national ticket by actually promoting interesting, new (and courageous) policy ideas.

Then Tea Party Sen. Mike Lee came out with a number of bills reprising key conservative reform ideas, in particular the idea of expanding the child tax credit.

But what’s happening now is most interesting: Presidential candidates are competing on policy. Rand Paul has done it, scrambling lines on foreign policy and the security state, reaching across the aisle on sentencing reform, and calling into question the Drug War. Marco Rubio, previously best known for pushing the boring old idea of immigration reform, has adopted a key conservative reform plank, wage subsidies, and other interesting ideas like a regulatory budget. Meanwhile, Ryan still pushes his policy wagon, unveiling new initiatives to fight poverty.

Rubio in particular is fascinating. He is a political animal, not a policy wonk, and has been licking his wounds after his immigration push. Rubio has clearly concluded that in today’s GOP, the way to gain political advantage and position himself for the presidential primaries is to propose new, serious, innovative policy ideas.