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Ramesh Ponnuru Moves the Goal Posts

In response to my post debunking one of the main Republican establishment myths, Ramesh Ponnuru claims that I joust with phantoms by “doing battle with someone he calls by my name but has very different views.” Yet he moves the goal posts in three ways that suggest those phantoms might be too close to reality for his own comfort.

First, Ramesh now admits there was, “some slippage on the right but not a huge amount.” That was not stated in his original article.  However, he continues to sell the data short. He keeps focusing on the presidential year of 2004. But let’s compare off-year elections, apples to apples. As Ramesh notes, in the bad year of 2006, conservatives voted 78% for Republicans and made up 32% of the electorate. Compare with the strong year of 2010, in which conservatives voted 84% for Republicans and made up 42% of the electorate. A six point differential, even when less of the electorate is conservative, is significant.

Second, Ramesh now concedes that at least some of this slippage may in fact have been due to “Republican squishiness.” I never argued that the 2006 election hinged “exclusively” on spending and limited government concerns. I pointed out that the independent voters that Republicans lost in 2006, cared a great deal about excess spending, and that it impacted their opinion of Republicans. I also suggested that Ramesh was wrong–by constantly conflating conservatives with Republicans and by drawing such a stark distinction between conservatives and independents–to conclude that big Republican government had nothing to do with the 2006 election losses.

However, even in this discussion, Ramesh is revealing. He declares “that the vast majority of conservative voters favored the prescription-drug subsidies.” I’m not sure where he is getting his proof, but I suspect he is conflating conservatives and Republicans again. According to an ABC/Washington Post poll, 49% of Republicans supported the Medicare prescription drug benefit soon after it was enacted, but 51% either disapproved or did not have an opinion (perhaps because it struck them odd that a Republican president was pushing such a massive new entitlement). Interestingly, 41% of independents disapproved of the new law with 30% approving and 30% having no opinion. The popularity of this new entitlement was hardly “vast” among Republicans, and certainly not with independents.

Third, Ramesh now claims that he was just criticizing “a few candidates associated with the tea party,” when he cited Sharron Angle and Ken Buck, and not the tea party as a whole.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t just criticizing a few candidates–he was criticizing “conservative primary voters [who] rejected two electable, conventionally conservative candidates” and preaching to similar voters across the country. Nor does he address any of the points I made, including that independents voted for both in the general election. He simply reasserts that both were “weak general-election candidates.”

Ramesh also claims that my conclusion that he “has long wanted an agenda that focuses on issues such as wage stagnation, traffic congestion, and student loan costs that appeal to middle class voters, not middle class entitlements that are bankrupting the entire nation” is not true. Not true? In the article I linked to, Ramesh [and Rich Lowry] call for “a reform agenda that helps ordinary Americans….That agenda should center, unapologetically, on the middle class.” In it, after a perfunctory mention that, “spending restraints should be a part of that agenda,” they call for addressing “mundane quality-of-life-issues such as traffic” and “simplifying financial-aid formulas, by replacing subsidized loans with direct grants as much as possible.” And of course, Ramesh is well-known for his foot being firmly on the brake of entitlement reforms.

If Ramesh had merely set out to remind us that Republicans need to apply “conservative thought to voters’ concerns, to be competent, and to be clean,” his article would not have deserved a response for that is obvious. But Ramesh set out to deconstruct an electorally-unsound “mythology” that has led to a “fixation on ideological purity” that he opposes. In doing so, he ironically perpetuated an actual mythology of the Republican establishment–a mythology that has serious adverse consequences for conservatives and Republicans alike, and the country at large. That mythology is not true and must be challenged at every turn.

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