How Did the GOP Become the Party of Ideas?

Lawrence B. Glickman in the Boston Review:

For many conservative pundits, the election of Donald Trump marked the moment when the Republican Party abandoned its longstanding claim to being the “party of ideas.” For example, in June 2017 longtime Republican policy advisor Bruce Bartlett wrote, “Trump is what happens when a political party abandons ideas.” For Bartlett, though, it had been a long decline, dating back decades. Likewise, Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell argued that “somehow the Party of Ideas stopped coming up with them circa, oh, 1987.”

As both of these comments suggest, the belief that the Republican Party was losing its status as the “party of ideas” long predated the rise of Trump. It went back to the 1988 presidential campaign, when critics fretted that George H. W. Bush, Reagan’s successor, lacked what Bush called the “vision thing.” By the early 1990s, conservative columnists were already worrying that, as Cal Thomas wrote, the GOP is “no longer identified as the party of ideas”—that it had, within a decade, become, as another columnist claimed, “intellectually spent, aimless, and exhausted.” Ever since, observations that the “GOP is no longer the party of ideas” have been a hardy perennial of punditry.

Yet even as we recognize the dramatic contrasts between the Republicans in the 1980s and those of our present moment, there remain several reasons to reject the “party of ideas” narrative.

More here.