David Frum

05.09.13

What Happens to the GOP if there's a Surplus in 2016?

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National Review's Reihan Salam considers a scary hypothetical: how will the public respond to a 2016 GOP presidential candidate if nearly a decade of "Doom Is Coming" fiscal warnings turn out to be less than accurate?

[I]magine 2016 in the unlikely but not completely impossible event that a budget surplus does materialize. Republican elevation of the deficit issue will allow the Obama administration and its Democratic allies to declare “mission accomplished,” all without taking the blame for entitlement reform. The House-passed budget that promised a balanced budget within the ten-year budget window by making unrealistically deep cuts in Medicaid and domestic discretionary spending will continue to be hung around the necks of congressional Republicans.

One hopes that one or several of the GOP presidential candidates will devise a more compelling economic message and reform agenda. But this will have to be done in a near-vacuum, as conservative lawmakers have been emphasizing deficit reduction above almost everything else. This is why it is extremely, extremely important that the GOP find 2014 candidates who are committed to advancing the economic interests of middle-income households, and who can address this subject in a compelling, plausible way.

Typically good work from Reihan, and I'd suggest something more. The GOP should be structuring its agenda to meet the needs of middle-income households no matter what the fiscal outlook looks like over the next three years.

The Republican coalition is shrinking because its solutions are less and less pertinent to the needs of actual voters. While it can be comforting to retreat to tried and true during midterm elections that favor conservative purists, the long-term demographic numbers are not great for commited conservatives.

That's why it's so important that Republicans look to 21st century ideas such as helping alleviate the woes of student debt, making it easier for young people to form healthy and stable families, and looking to different ways to ease peoples' tax burdens and ensure they too will be able to count on a secure retirement.

America is changing. It's time for the GOP to do the same, because this country desperately needs a conservative political party that can hold its own in the 21st century.