David Frum

02.05.13

The 'No More Todd Akins Project' Isn't Enough

Whitney Curtis/Getty Images ()

"No more Todd Akins" would be a good first step for any Republican reform project. To the extent the new Conservative Victory Project can achieve just that, it would have commenced a good start.

But the GOP problem goes bigger than bad candidates, bigger than bad messaging. The messaging was bad in 2012 because the message itself was bad. It's the message that needs to be fixed if the party is to save itself from more 2012s.

“There is a broad concern about having blown a significant number of races because the wrong candidates were selected,” said Steven J. Law, the president of American Crossroads, the “super PAC” creating the new project.

That concern is totally valid. But here's another concern: the wrong party message can turn even good candidates into bad candidates. Heather Wilson in New Mexico should have been a good candidate. Mitt Romney could have been a good candidate. But nobody could have sold the platform the GOP was offering in 2012.

The real challenge for American Crossroads is that the GOP's political problems cannot be fixed at the SuperPac level. SuperPacs make ads. That's it.

But if you want to advertise a message about the middle class, you must first develop policies that offer something to the middle class.

If you want to reach out to new voters, you must do so in real space, not only via TV and radio.

Republicans won't get very far with a division of labor that allows extremists to write the policies, while the pragmatists write the ads.

What the Republican party needs now is a full-spectrum, self-conscious alternative to the extremism that has gripped the GOP since 2008. Just as the "movement conservatism" of the 1970s challenged from within an out-of-date party elite, so today the Republican party needs a new movement of modern-minded, progressive Republicans to challenge the ascendancy of Tea Party conservatism.

Steven Law's project can play a welcome part in such a challenge. But if the challenge is to succeed, it will need to be bigger, broader, and deeper than anything that can be done by a SuperPac alone.