Economic Apostasy on the Right?

Thomas Edsall writes that a few conservatives are questioning free-market orthodoxy. One of the “questioners” he cites already has clarified that he doesn’t question “free-market orthodoxy” at all. That guy, James Pethokoukis, works for the American Enterprise Institute and I suspect he wants to keep his job. As Edsall remembers,

Just four years ago, David Frum, still another former speechwriter for George W. Bush, was fired by A.E.I. after sharply attacking Republican refusals to negotiate with Democrats on Obamacare in March of 2010. “We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat,” Frum declared. “Our overheated talk,” he wrote, “mobilizes supporters – but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead.”

On the Right, “free markets” are more sacred than Jesus. Some of them might rather take their chances with lions in an arena than denounce untrammeled and unregulated capitalism. They might assume a giant, invisible hand will reach down to rescue them.

Edsall mentions a couple of other people:

Pethokoukis is one of a number of conservative analysts who over the past three years have undergone something of an intellectual conversion. Michael Gerson, a speechwriter for President George W. Bush and now a Washington Post columnist, and Peter J. Wehner, also a Bush speechwriter and now a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, published “A Conservative Vision of Government” in the winter 2014 edition of the journal National Affairs. Their essay is an attack on the idea cherished by many Tea Party activists that all (or nearly all) government action and intervention is bad.

The problem is, Gerson in particular has a long history of trollerly. He’s skilled at sounding reasonable and moderate while also signaling allegiance to that which is unreasonable and radical. Jonathan Chait does a good job of taking this phenomenon apart.

Edsall goes on to note that the Right’s unflagging extremism is really good at whipping up the base, but (a) it is slowly losing them support among voters who are not crazy, particularly outside the South and the Midwest; and (b) it makes crafting actual policy that might actually be enacted in Real World Land pretty much impossible. But can the Republican Party, even gradually, turn itself around, or is it too far gone and being pulled by a current of its own making toward a total crackup? And if the latter, will it take the country with it?