What we need is a policy arm independent of the existing policy infrastructure on the Hill that incorporates the best of what’s happening in the states, on the Hill, and in the think tanks. A Republican National Policy Committee would be tasked with crafting a larger message that’s bigger than just House Republicans or Senate Republicans, but that includes both and Governors as well. An RNPC would have de-facto last word on the elusive question of what the Republican Party is for, would appoint "shadow cabinet" spokespeople to directly respond to what’s happening at the departments and agencies, and have point on crafting a Contract-like Republican platform for the midterm elections. Part think tank, part messaging engine, a Republican policy committee would keep the ideas flame alive until a Presidential nominee emerged.
I think that this gets exactly wrong what we need. Washington is where ideas come to die. They get strangled by interests groups warping them for their own ends. They get strangled by bureaucracies in the parties, in the interest groups, and in government interested in the status quo.
We don’t need Washington to deputize someone with the authority to have ideas on behalf of the party. Anyone who has seen the platform process up close knows that it is, for the most part, a list of shibboleths rather than a serious policy debate. Subordinating our ideas to existing power structures is just going to destroy us.
We need more people with actual ideas speaking and competing in the marketplace. If we are going to take ideas seriously — and I agree with Jon that our institutions are not yet ready to, there might be an alternative model that we could borrow from the European centre-right, the European Ideas Network (EIN) or improve on our existing models.
EIN brings together politicians, academics, business leaders, think tankers, and interest groups to discuss the problems facing Europe. They come up with new questions, and sometimes even solutions. They compare notes on political viability. The key thing is that this is a Network not a top-down structure and, for the most part, people are allowed to engage freely with little sense of hierarchy.
There are similar models in the US. We have the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC, the conservative/Republican version of the National Council of State Legislators, NCSL), the various Governors Associations (Republican, Democratic, and National). The RGA and NGA regularly make recommendations to Congress and President that are based in actual experience running government outside of the Beltway, rather than the zero-sum game of Washington.
It is true that there are flaws in these models. The RGA and NGA are partly bodies designed for preening by future candidates for President. They tend to have people from one level of government, not multiple. The conveners have agenda of their own that they enforce via the invite list and the topics. And the conveners either are or are accountable to the donors who will, of course, have their own agendas.
So the objective should be multiple networks of conferences, donors and politicians, maybe focused on different issues. These should be tied into the conservative and main stream media. And they should make room for dissenting views, not merely the Ronald Reagan lovefest that we have come to know at conservative meetings like CPAC.
Now is the time for idea entrepreneurship, not idea centralization.