The No. 1 Question Republicans Need To Answer About Their Big Deficit Shift

eric cantor


Over the past few weeks, we’ve been writing about the GOP’s shift away from hardcore budget-slashing to a broader agenda of economic growth and job creation. In the wake of last month’s fiscal cliff embarrassments, a growing number of conservative leaders have been pushing for Republicans to lay off the debt issue and start talking about something else … something more positive.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has reportedly led the charge among House Republicans, urging his caucus to start figuring out “how to make life work better,” a new motto that is also the title of a speech Cantor will give at the American Enterprise Institute on this topic next week. At the Republican National Convention, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal told the GOP to “stop being the stupid party,” and start talking about growth, rather than austerity. 

Despite the lofty rhetoric, however, Republicans have offered few specifics about what their new economic agenda would look like. What we want to know now is: What exactly are these “pro-growth” policies that Republicans claim to want to pursue?

We posed this question to Brad Dayspring, Republican communications strategist who has been actively pushing a new “pro-growth” message. 

“There are lots of different policies that you can look at,” said Dayspring, a former aide to Cantor who was recently named communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Specifically, Dayspring said, Republicans could look at lowering taxes and rolling back regulations as possible policies that would promote economic growth.

“Underneath those policies is the desire to get investors investing again, to get consumers consuming again, and to get employers hiring again,” he said. 

Dayspring’s rather limited answers underscore the fundamental struggle that the GOP faces in coming up with a “positive” economic agenda:

Conservative ideology has centered around limited government principles, which almost always see federal power as the problem, rather than a solution. As a result, it is difficult for Republicans to come up with any economic solutions that don’t revolve around Federal cuts.

In his New York Times column today, David Brooks highlights this problem and calls for a split in the GOP, imagining a new wing of the party that doesn’t ascribe to its anti-government tenets. 

Brooks writes: 

Can current Republicans change their underlying mentality to adapt to these realities? Intellectual history says no. People almost never change their underlying narratives or unconscious frameworks. Moreover, in the South and rural West, where most Republicans are from, the Encroachment Story has deep historic and psychological roots. Anti-Washington, anti-urban sentiment has characterised those cultures for decades.

It’s probably futile to try to change current Republicans. It’s smarter to build a new wing of the Republican Party, one that can compete in the Northeast, the mid-Atlantic states, in the upper Midwest and along the West Coast. It’s smarter to build a new division that is different the way the Westin is different than the Sheraton.

The second G.O.P. would tackle both problems at once. It would be filled with people who recoiled at President Obama’s second Inaugural Address because of its excessive faith in centralized power, but who don’t share the absolute antigovernment story of the current G.O.P.

Brooks’ third-party Republicans are clearly a fantasy; moreover, he probably overestimates the divisions in the GOP.

As Dayspring illustrates, the GOP’s recent shift away from spending cuts toward a “smarter,” “pro-growth” message is still rhetorical, rather than substantive. Republicans fundamentally believe that the amount of government spending is a major long-term problem. 

“I think we can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Dayspring told Business Insider. “Cutting budgets is a necessity of our environment, but it’s not exactly an aspirational message. I think most Republicans understand that, I think most House Republicans understand it. They need to be able to balance the need to cut budgets with a positive vision for economic growth.” 

“The more often we can do that, the more often we will be equipped to sell our economic message,” he added. 

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