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Joe Conason: Change? Learn? Compromise? Grow? Not These Republicans

Hearing so much chatter about “change” in the Republican Party, the innocent voter might believe that the Republicans had learned important lessons from their stinging electoral defeat. On closer examination, however, the likelihood of real change appears nil because the party’s leaders and thinkers can cite so many excuses to remain utterly the same.

At the Republican Governors Association conference last week, for instance, the favored explanation for the voting public’s emphatic rejection of Mitt Romney had nothing to do with issues or ideology, but only with more effective Democratic Party organizing and communicating. According to Wade Goodwyn, the National Public Radio reporter who covered the GOP governors’ meeting, their post-election mood was not one of shock, but complacency.

“It was widely agreed that nothing needed to be changed except perhaps the tone,” he found. “For example, the idea that more than 70 percent of Hispanics voted for the president because of Republican positions on illegal immigration was rejected by the Republican governors.”

That would be hard to believe if Goodwyn were not such an excellent and experienced journalist, because it is so stupid, so insulting and makes so little sense. Could it really be true that the nation’s Republican governors — one of whom is quite likely to be the party’s next presidential nominee — are so obtuse and so obstinate that they would reject change even on immigration?

Republican leaders also seem inclined to ignore voter sentiment on the issue of taxes, despite majorities of 70 percent or better that agree the rich should pay more (including many voters who identify with the GOP). Rep. Mike Pence, who will become the governor of Indiana next January, told the Republican governors that he remains firmly opposed to any tax increase, especially on “those in the best position to put hurting Americans back to work,” which is GOP code for mega-millionaires and above.

Clearly the Republicans in Congress, too, feel free to ignore public opinion on this question, since Speaker John Boehner and his caucus have offered a “compromise” on fiscal policy that represents no change whatsoever from their earlier positions and the Romney platform. Government can accrue fresh revenues from growth, they say, nothing new or even meaningful there. And government can close unspecified loopholes and deductions to increase revenues, too. Where have we heard that before?

Meanwhile, the consulting geniuses who predicted a Romney victory — a landslide, even! — are peddling alibis about why their party lost despite billions of dollars spent. Fox News expert Dick Morris says it is because their voter machinery failed, the Romney campaign didn’t fight back and Hurricane Sandy persuaded all of the undecided voters to back President Barack Obama.

By the way, Morris now predicts that the economy will suffer a ruinous decline over the coming year or two, so Republicans can just sit back and watch the Democrats sink with it, which is another way of saying no need for change on any front. Given his record as an oracle, both Democrats and Americans more generally now have great reasons for optimism.

Karl Rove, who squandered vast sums of his generous donors’ money, has lots of explaining to do. But he always has lots of explanations. This time, having reluctantly acknowledged electoral reality, Rove agrees with Morris that the Romney campaign’s failures were mostly to blame. He is full of advice for the party leaders, urging them to change the date of the convention, try to avoid “sounding judgmental and callous” on social issues, and “do better — much better” with Hispanics, younger voters, women and middle-class families.

How should Republicans “do better” with those voter groups? On that question, Rove resorts to cliches about “reframing” messages and “re-engineering” voter turnout efforts, as though issues and policies have nothing to do with motivating actual voters.

Finally, Rove insists that his donors will continue to pour good money after bad into the coffers of American Crossroads, his super PAC. His current bleating sounds nothing like his confident bluster a decade ago, when he looked forward to a Republican realignment and unchecked power for decades to come.

Reality has changed, but Republicans won’t. They insist on creating their own reality, like Rove and his friends at Fox News always did — but fewer and fewer Americans will still pretend to live there.

Joe Conason is editor in chief of Click here for more information, or click here to contact him. Follow him on Twitter: @JConason.

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