If you look closely at the current crop of Republican candidates, you can see the beginnings of a similar fracturing of the GOP message. Mike Huckabee looks determined to run on cultural decline. Jeb Bush and even Mitt Romney want to focus on using government to help the poor. Every potential candidate except Rand Paul will likely promise defense hikes and a more aggressive, militaristic foreign policy. And every potential GOP candidate, including Rand Paul, will likely unveil a big tax cut, probably unmatched by real reductions in spending.
When it comes to winning presidential elections, diminished ideological fervor can actually be an advantage. The government dependency argument that Ryan trotted out in 2011 worked out poorly for Mitt Romney in 2012. Joni Ernst, by contrast, devoted much of her State of the Union address to personal, non-ideological stories about her hardscrabble farm-girl upbringing, and came across as appealing and non-threatening.
The lesson of last night’s State of the Union is that in both parties, the terms of the domestic policy debate have shifted left. As we approach 2016, Republicans will have to contend with a country that knows it really isn’t Greece.