There has been a lot of talk since the presidential election about the possible emergence of a new faction within the Republican Party, or at least among the conservative intelligentsia. These new Republicans, we're told, are willing to be more open-minded on cultural issues, more understanding of immigrants, and more skeptical that trickle-down economics is enough; they'll favor direct measures to help working families.
So what should we call these new Republicans? I have a suggestion: why not call them "Democrats"?
There are three things you need to understand here.
First, on economic issues the modern Democratic Party is what we would once have considered "centrist," or even center-right. President Obama's Heritage Foundation-inspired health care plan is to the right of Richard Nixon's proposal in 1974. Nobody with political influence is suggesting a return to pre-Reagan tax rates on the wealthy. Fantasies about Mr. Obama as a socialist, redistributionist hater of capitalism bear no more resemblance to reality than fantasies about his birthplace or religion.
Second, today's Republican Party is an alliance between the plutocrats and the preachers, plus some opportunists along for the ride — full stop. The whole party is about low taxes at the top (and low benefits for the rest), plus conservative social values and putting religion in the schools; it has no other reason for being. Someday there may emerge another party with the same name standing for a quite different agenda; after all, the Republicans were once defined by opposition to slavery, and the Democrats by rural voters (hence the donkey). But that will take a long time, and it won't really be the same party.
Finally, it's true that there are some Republican intellectuals and pundits who seem to be truly open-minded about both economic and social issues. But I worded that carefully: they "seem to be" open-minded; indeed, they're professional seemers. When it matters, they can always be counted on — after making a big show of stroking their chins and agonizing — to follow the party line and reject anything that doesn't go along with the preacher-plutocrat agenda. If they don't deliver when it counts, they are excommunicated (see Frum, David).
Anyone who imagines that there is any real soul-searching going on is deluding himself or herself.