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    At the conclave of conservative activists in Washington last weekend, Paul Ryan dropped a metaphor on the Republican Party’s clan feud: “I’m Irish. That’s my idea of a family reunion.”As someone who has spent a lifetime among the Irish, let me add that there are Irish feuds . . . and there are Irish feuds. Some get settled over the casket of the deceased. “Jimmy, you know I loved you when you were alive. God rest.”

    Let me offer an alternative metaphor. The nonstop appearances before the CPAC conference of presidential candidates past and present makes the Republican Party look like a roulette wheel in a casino.

    Cruz, Paul, Perry, Ryan, Christie, Rubio, Jindal, Huckabee, Carson, Santorum, Palin. The party seems to believe that if it spins the wheel often enough, lady luck will deliver a winning candidate. Sen. Rand Paul hit the CPAC jackpot for the second year in a row, winning the attendees’ straw vote, though not 10 people can agree on what he stands for. Now there’s a lucky fella.

    An obligatory conceit of all the players at the Republican presidential table is to assert what “we” stand for.

    We? I believe that’s “me.”

    It’s obvious by now that most of these nominally Republican presidential candidates are political free agents for whom the party is largely a legal necessity. The eventual campaign has about as much attachment to the institutional Republican Party as Carmelo Anthony does to the New York Knicks.

    Politics as a game of freelancing high-rollers like Sens. Cruz and Paul, running arcane strategies to fill auditoriums, is fun, even exciting. It’s also producing Republican candidates who don’t quite make the sale.

    Watching Republicans run for the presidency is an exhausting crapshoot. When election day arrives, there’s no there there. The voters who provide the margin of victory never get the Republican Party and its candidate into focus. There’s a hodgepodge of fine “principles,” but what is your party actually going to do if we let you run the country?

    Martin Kozlowski

    A Democrat can only love this spectacle. While Republicans stage the Irish family reunion that never ends, Democrats stay united around policies dating to 1964. Tax, spend and pander. You keep looking for anything resembling an interesting revision of their entitlement-state steam engine, but it never comes.

    Ah, but it did come, just last month. A crack opened in the Democratic status quo big enough to drive the whole GOP through. On Feb. 4 a Congressional Budget Office report said that by 2024, ObamaCare would eliminate or reduce full-time jobs for some 2.5 million Americans, more than the 800,000 estimated in 2010.

    This was like Toto pulling the curtain away from the great Oz. Oh dear, Democratic entitlements are supposed to help people, not hurt them.

    Within hours, the White House countered with the lunacy that the CBO number meant ObamaCare would actually liberate people from jobs they disliked. The liberal pundit chorus sang the same loony tune: We’re freeing people from bad work! Sing along everyone: “We’re off to see the Wizard!”

    The private citizen who revealed a key structural flaw beneath the ObamaCare entitlement—and indeed much of the Entitlement State—was University of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan.

    Prof. Mulligan had been sharing with the CBO numbers he’d crunched around ObamaCare’s subsidy system. Under the law, if a person’s income from work rises (a better job, a raise), their ObamaCare insurance subsidy gets smaller. The rational way to capture the biggest health-insurance subsidy is to stay poor, underemployed or even jobless. The same perverse entitlement incentive to stay poor is elaborated in Paul Ryan’s recent report, “The War on Poverty 50 Years Later.”

    Prof. Mulligan says he knows little about Washington politics. That may be. But you’d think the Republican presidential candidates would want to rally en masse around what he knows about the rotting foundation beneath their opponents’ politics.

    One imagines GOP presidential dreamers spending weekends sifting polls, phrases, principles and personal obsessions to shape a unique campaign message. Great. But how much greater it would be if just once they gave voters a coherent, consistentRepublican message connected to something real.

    The Entitlement State isn’t a bumper sticker. It is a multi-trillion-dollar edifice of laws meticulously expanded for decades by Democrats in Congress. The Great Society wasn’t a speech. Lyndon Johnson politicked it into existence.

    Republicans once did this, too. The Reagan tax cut of 1986 didn’t pass because the Gipper gave grand speeches. It took years of legislative politicking to transform his ideas into law.

    Neither achievement happened without broad party agreement about the goal.

    Republicans obviously are not allergic to policy seriousness, notably in the states. The core of Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp’s tax reform—simplification and rate reduction—should be a common endpoint. But because the party hardly ever displays a critical mass around an idea that could become law, voters (and donors) never quite figure out what “GOP” stands for.

    Roulette’s fun. But ultimately it’s just wheel-spinning.

    Write to henninger@wsj.com


    Posted by Dana West @ 8:16 pm for Elections, National politics |

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