What was billed as a discussion of the nation’s debt crisis instead became a look at the future of the Republican Party as journalist Byron York delivered a speech on campus Tuesday, sponsored by the Knox College Conservatives.
York, the former White House correspondent for The National Review and a current Fox News contributor, spoke about a number of topics ranging from how Congress is like golf’s Ryder Cup to Congressional Republicans’ love of the television series “House of Cards,” but his focus was on how the party can shake off its loss in 2012 and position itself for the future.
York faulted the party for being “stuck in a cult of veneration of Ronald Reagan for 30 years” and failing to generate enough compelling new ideas to attract voters. Its traditional mantra of tax cuts and small government was failing to connect to voters concerned about jobs above all else.
He did not deny the economic utility of tax cuts, but said that the Republican message was in danger of becoming, “If your house is on fire, you cut taxes. … If your girlfriend breaks up with you, you cut taxes.” Such a message, he warned, risked making the party look as if it was out of ideas.
The Romney campaign was a particular target of criticism. He related an anecdote where, after hearing Romney deliver a campaign speech extolling the virtues of entrepreneurship, he asked a campaign staffer how many people in the audience were really concerned with being able to found their own business. The staffer admitted it was probably very few.
Such stale economic thinking, York contends, doomed Romney. It was the millions of salaried Americans that are increasingly falling behind in tough economic times that he believes the GOP needs to recapture to have a shot in 2016. He outlined alternative ideas, such as the promotion of shale gas production and finding ways to cap college costs, that could widen the party’s message while still staying true to its conservative principles.
In the end, York was optimistic.
“They [the Republicans] could turn into a great party again,” he said.
He looked towards a new generation of GOP leaders, likely drawn from the ranks of the nation’s governors such as Bobby Jindal or Scott Walker, to overcome the problems of 2012 and lead the GOP back into the White House.