Dick Morris and Sarah Palin are out at Fox News. Rep. Paul Ryan is helping House Speaker John Boehner talk his caucus down from the debt-ceiling ledge. Sen. Marco Rubio is going from one conservative talk-radio host to another to sell them on bipartisan immigration reform. Louisiana’s Gov. Bobby Jindal is telling Republicans to cease being “the stupid party.” Tea Party icon Jim DeMint left the Senate, while FreedomWorks, a Tea Party catalyst, went through a nasty, costly divorce with its figurehead, Dick Armey. Karl Rove’s super-PAC is turning its formidable financial artillery toward helping Republicans win primary elections against Tea Party insurgents.
The Republican establishment is reasserting control. It’s purging some of the hucksters who’d taken the party’s reins — or at least the airtime — in recent years. It’s resisting much of the brinkmanship that marked the last Congress and trying to present a more fearsome, united front against counterproductive strategies favored by the right. All of the major 2016 presidential contenders have made the same political calculation: It’s better to build a reputation as one of the party’s adults than as one of its firebrands.
“We’ve had a period of this movement at the grass-roots level, call it Tea Party or something else, and it seems to me we’re seeing the normal progression of a grass-roots populist movement,” said Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman from Minnesota. “It ran out of control for a few years — that’s why we call it a movement rather than an organization. But it’s receding a bit now. That’s allowing natural leaders to reassert themselves, and institutional forces to reassert themselves.”
Just don’t call this process moderation. The Republican Party isn’t reinventing itself so much as reverting to its previous form. There’s little evidence of a rethinking of core Republican policy ideas. There’s no obvious analogue to the Democratic Leadership Council of the late 1980s and early 1990s, which was a moderating influence on the Democrats, or even to the “compassionate conservatism” that George W. Bush promoted to the nation in 2000.
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