Marvin Olasky interviews Ramesh Ponnuru.
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Marvin Olasky interviews Ramesh Ponnuru.

How the GOP can win


The current issue of WORLD includes a Q&A with Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor of National Review. Here are some outtakes that deserve more than the cutting room floor:

You mentioned that you decided to postpone going to law school. The particular law school you deferred was? The University of Chicago. I ended up never going. When the deferment time was up I used the threat of going to law school to extract a raise from my editor.

The opposite of going into law school debt. And you’ve been at National Review your whole professional life? That’s right. I’m the last person in the United States with lifetime employment.

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That used to be a middle class bulwark: no more. What should the Republican Party do to start being thought of as a party that helps the middle class, as opposed to its media reputation of “helping the rich and big corporations”? Republicans have resisted President Obama’s Healthcare Initiative but have not united around a robust program to replace it that would make health insurance affordable to people. You can’t run on a platform where your basic health care idea is to take health insurance away from people—millions and millions of people—and have that be successful.

If you could be the master designer of this system, what would you like to see? Right now a tax break for health insurance is essentially unlimited in that the more expensive health insurance you get, and the higher up the income scale you are,  the more that tax break is worth. I would flatten that out into just being a tax credit—and if you choose a cheaper health insurance plan, you pocket that savings.

An incentive to economize? Yes. I would at the same time say to people, “If you don’t have access to health insurance through your employer, you can use that tax credit to buy health insurance for yourself and not have to go through your employer.” You essentially get to universal coverage but in a much more affordable way, with much less government bureaucracy, much less threat of government rationing down the line.

Why didn’t Republican senators and members of Congress do anything when they briefly controlled both the White House and both branches of Congress? Conservatives for many, many years thought of health care as a liberal issue and didn’t devote time and energy and intellect to it. That has been very damaging. But also, they never had 59 or 60 senators the way the Democrats had in 2009, and the little things they tried to do were filibustered by the Democrats. They could still have associated conservatism in the public mind with having solutions on health care. Instead, they looked like politicians totally uninterested in helping people.

Is the fight against same sex marriage a lost cause at this point? If so, is it one of the lost causes worth fighting for? I would like to be able to deny that it is a lost cause. I do not see a lot of evidence that leads me to think it a potentially winning cause. That doesn’t change my view about the duty of public officials to stand for what’s right.

Some Republicans see opposition to homosexuality as hurting the GOP … Think about the four states that voted on the marriage question in this last election. The cause of same-sex marriage won each time, but in each state the opposition to it was stronger than the Republican ticket. That suggests to me same-sex marriage is not an issue dragging the party down. Whatever problems the Republican Party has, this is not at the forefront.

The Party of Death was a great title for the book you wrote on abortion politics.  Is there any life in the party of death concerning abortion? Are the Republicans still the party of life, and do you think they’ll continue being so? When I started covering national politics in the mid-1990s you had pretty important governors—California, New Jersey, Massachusetts—Republican governors who were all pro-choice. There are still some pro-choice Republicans here and there, but I’m not worried about who wins the party nomination in 2016 on this issue.

Any recommendations on tactics? White pro-lifers do have to find a way to make an effective coalition with non-white pro-lifers, and if that happens I think pro-lifers are going to be very hard to beat. We’ve got to find a way to put the focus on the ways in which the pro-choice side is out of step with the ambivalent folks in the middle and not the ways we are out of step with them. We should talk a little more about how the president of the United States believes that it should be permissible to deliver a live infant then kill it.


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