The GOP is in makeover mode. Both yesterday's column by Paul Krugman and today's by David Brooks refer to a recent speech by Bobby Jindal where he criticizes his party for being the captive of the rich; he calls on fellow Republicans to do a better job of wooing the working class.
The Krugman and Brooks columns are in rare alignment: they both criticize Jindal's speech and the Republican makeover in general as without substance. In fact, Jindal is one of several of Republican governors looking to scrap his state's income tax in favor of increased sales taxes. As Krugman explains,
Meanwhile, back in Louisiana Mr. Jindal is pushing a plan to eliminate the state’s income tax, which falls most heavily on the affluent, and make up for the lost revenue by raising sales taxes, which fall much more heavily on the poor and the middle class. The result would be big gains for the top 1 percent, substantial losses for the bottom 60 percent. Similar plans are being pushed by a number of other Republican governors as well.
Like the new acknowledgment that the perception of being the party of the rich is a problem, this represents a departure for the G.O.P. — but in the opposite direction. In the past, Republicans would justify tax cuts for the rich either by claiming that they would pay for themselves or by claiming that they could make up for lost revenue by cutting wasteful spending. But what we’re seeing now is open, explicit reverse Robin Hoodism: taking from ordinary families and giving to the rich. That is, even as Republicans look for a way to sound more sympathetic and less extreme, their actual policies are taking another sharp right turn.Brooks points out that the main argument for the working class to vote Republican, that what's good for business is good for America, is now rhetorically flat after decades of productivity increases and cascading corporate wealth failed to trickle down to the 99%:
The next problem with this mentality is that it makes it hard for Republicans to analyze social and economic problems that don’t flow directly from big government. For example, we are now at the end of the era in which a rising tide lifts all boats. Republicans like Mitt Romney can talk about improving the overall business climate with lower taxes and lighter regulation, but regular voters sense that that won’t necessarily help them because wages no longer keep pace with productivity gains.Eric Cantor is talking about school vouchers. And while that might find a ready audience in Davos, there's no pot of electoral gold at the end of that rainbow; the same goes for Brooks' call for the creation of a second GOP, a moderate Republican Party, based in the mid-Atlantic states, West Coast and upper Midwest.