Why do the Republicans of tomorrow seem so much like the Republicans of yesteryear?
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, provoked comparisons to Joseph McCarthy for his attacks on Chuck Hagel during the current defense secretary's rancorous confirmation process. Yet, on Monday, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, said that Cruz and other freshman Republican lawmakers like Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky represent "the future of our party."
His praise arrived just a few days after Sen. Paul led a headline-grabbing filibuster against John Brennan's nomination to run the CIA. Priebus, with a certain youthful enthusiasm, called the filibuster "completely awesome." Other Republicans, however, were less impressed and, like critics of Sen. Cruz, they reached back in time to make their case. Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, accused Sens. Rand and Cruz of "isolationism," a formerly popular doctrine of non-intervention in world affairs that counted millions of followers in both parties until the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Isolationism was largely discredited after the United States entered World War II that same year, as were prominent public figures like aviator Charles Lindbergh. It was exactly in this tradition that Sen. McCain tried to place Sens. Rand and Cruz when he observed that:
There has been a debate in our party for years and years about whether we should withdraw to fortress America or not... We are for a strong America and we believe that's the best way to prevent war rather than a weakened military, which many of my colleagues now support who are the isolationists, which goes all the way back to post-World War I.
And here we arrive at the same problem Republicans have had to confront over and over again. Every time they try to move into the future, they end up beating ceaselessly into the past. What does it say about a party's ability to innovate when its latest high-concept budget plan is the same one it has used for the last three years in a row? Or that it also embraces an Ahab-like quest to overturn the Obama health care law that the Supreme Court upheld? We may get better answers to these questions on March 18 when Priebus will reveal his findings from a review of the 2012 elections to reporters at the National Press Club in Washington.
Martin Bashir talked about the new generation of Republican leaders with Dana Milbank of the Washington Post and Joy Reid, managing editor of theGrio.com on Tuesday. Watch their discussion here: