Can The GOP Put Its Internal Feuds Behind It?

This week, politicians and pundits of almost all persuasions seemed to agree that the Republican Party took a hit from the shutdown. But Jonah Goldberg of the National Review sees a path forward. Hos Scott Simon talks with Goldberg about how the party can put its schisms behind it.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Who says official Washington, D.C. can't find common ground. This week, politicians and pundits of almost all persuasions seemed to agree that the Republican Party lost the most politically because of the shutdown of the U.S. government and the country's near-death experience.

Speaker John Boehner said simply: We lost. Other Republicans were equally blunt, but Jonah Goldberg of the National Review urged conservatives and Republicans this week to, quote, "put those disagreements behind us, like family fights at a Thanksgiving table." Jonah Goldberg joins us in our studios. Thanks so much for being with us.

JONAH GOLDBERG: It's great to be here.

SIMON: You say blame doesn't matter, but does it matter if the American people, according to polls, are blaming Republicans?

GOLDBERG: Well, look. As a political matter, I think of course it matters in the calculus of electoral politics and all of that, and as a historical matter, or as an intellectual matter I think it's - my point to sort of rank and file conservatives was that only time will tell how this worked out. There are a lot of people, a lot of smart people, not necessarily only Tea Party people either, who think that in the long run that this was a short-term strategic loss, but this long term, just lay down a marker will read down to the benefit of the Tea Parties and the Republican Party.

I don't know if that's true. But then again, I don't know that it's not true. And the only way to find out is to move forward. And, I'll just be honest, there is an enormous amount of bitterness and acrimony on the right right now and what I think is fascinating about it as sort of a student of conservative history is that it is so unideological. I mean, there's some ideology in it, but it is mostly cultural.

It's sort of populists versus establishment and the populists talk about the establishment as if establishment is code for liberal, but, you know, the Republican establishment now is almost, by any objective measure, more conservative than it's been in the last 40 years. So it's not like there are a lot of Rockefeller Republicans running the Republican Party right now.

And so this split is sort of a cultural split, populist versus establishment, and I don't know that it's an entirely healthy split. It's a good tension, but it can get bad.

SIMON: And is it between, say, as has been suggested, people who run state houses and are pragmatists, consider themselves pragmatists; Governor Christie of New Jersey, Governor Jindal of Louisiana versus the congressional wing - at least the House wing of the party, you know, because being speaker of the House and controlling the House of Representatives, you would think is the kind of thing a party would boast about.

GOLDBERG: Yeah. I think, it's, I mean, the key thing that has John Boehner in his job is that nobody wants it and I think that the split you're talking about there is a little different one and I think in some ways one of the upsides of this whole mess in Washington has been very good for Republican governors. These guys are the ones who get to say, as almost successful presidential candidate has in the last couple decades, I'm the force of change. What they're doing in Washington doesn't work.

That was Barack Obama's message, it was George W. Bush's message, it was Bill Clinton's message, it was Ronald Reagan's message, it was Jimmy Carter's message. You can keep going down the list. And since the Democrats have held power for the last eight years, I think that the mess in Washington helps those Republican governors who can carry forth that message more than anybody else.

SIMON: Jonah Goldberg of National Review. Always nice to have you. Thanks so much.

GOLDBERG: Great to be here. Thank you.

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