The New York Times takes an in-depth look at the efforts of a new, younger generation of conservative intellectuals and lawmakers, including Sen. Mike Lee, who want to transform the GOP into the champion of middle-class and low-income voters.
American politics is the story, in large part, of outsiders who became skilled insiders, not by selling out but by growing into the demands of the office. It happened to Barry Goldwater and also to Reagan. It might happen again. When I spoke with him, Rubio also stood by his own antipoverty proposal, acknowledging it would not save any money but suggesting it might in the long run since it would lift many out of poverty. This is exactly the case Lyndon Johnson and Democrats made generations ago. “Our debt isn’t driven by discretionary spending on poverty programs,” Rubio said. “We’re not going to balance the budget by saving money on safety-net programs.”
It is hard to imagine the Republican candidate who will say this in a closely contested Red State primary in 2014 or during a presidential race in 2016. But some politicians say otherwise, including Levin’s own favorite senator, Mike Lee, the Tea Party firebrand from Utah, who stood by Ted Cruz’s side during the October shutdown but also has adopted the reformers’ middle-class agenda as well as its idioms. Mere weeks before the shutdown, Lee drew favorable press for introducing a reform idea, the child tax credit, lifted straight from the pages of National Affairs. It was a big moment for Levin, “something we can really point to.” When I talked to Lee in June, he equated reform with conservatism and with the issues he expects his party to address in 2014 and in 2016. The current crisis, he said, “shows up in the form of immobility in the poor, insecurity in the middle class, with cronyist privilege at the top of the ladder.” Lee has spoken with Levin several times about these problems. “Without question, he’s important and influential,” he said, adding that “government’s job should be to facilitate the free market and civil society.” But is the reform agenda viable? “It’s not just viable,” Lee replied. “I think it’s the argument.”