The ouster of the House majority leader, Eric Cantor, in a primary was a show of strength by the more radical wing of the Republican Party. Photographer: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
The ouster of the House majority leader, Eric Cantor, in a primary was a show of strength by the more radical wing of the Republican Party. Photographer: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

This seems to be the week for Democrats to form opinions about reform conservatives. Kevin Drum is unimpressed, but has some hope; Scott Lemieux has a negative view, as did Paul Krugman earlier.

Well, sure, reform conservatives aren’t going to satisfy liberals on policy. And, as I’ve said, for people outside the party, the problem with the Republican Party isn’t that it’s too conservative. Rather, it's the party's refusal to accept the normal compromises of U.S. politics; resistance to evidence from outside the conservative information feedback loop, and a “post-policy” indifference to basic policy-formation. In short, the problem isn’t that they’re conservatives. It’s that they are dysfunctional radicals.

So, for those outside the Republican Party, what's at stake is whether reform conservatives have a reasonable chance to fix what’s broken. Liberals shouldn’t expect to agree with the reformers, or to find their policies appealing. But they should expect the other party to have real policy preferences, and something resembling policy proposals, and for them to abide by the basic norms of the political system.

By those standards, reform conservatives deserve an incomplete grade, but one that is more positive than negative. My sense is that most of the reformers opposed the October government shutdown, for example, and were willing to call out Senator Ted Cruz and the other radicals. They seem to be developing policy that’s designed for governing, as opposed to designing proposals that'll make a quick score in the conservative marketplace. Many of them engage with those outside the conservative information loop. That's all to the good.

Whether that will push the rest of the Republican Party to change is harder to guess. Even if some of the reformers' policy ideas wind up in the 2016 platform, it’ won't matter if the party remains terrified of its radical fringe. But that’s not the fault of the reformers.

To contact the writer of this article: Jonathan Bernstein at Jbernstein62@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net.