A newly empowered Republican Party now gets a unique chance to undergo sharp policy shifts — if its leaders in Washington so desire.
Chalk up this opportunity to last year’s internal party revolt by the ultimately successful supporters of Donald Trump.
On Sunday, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, soon to become White House chief of staff, said: “I don’t think President-elect Trump wants to meddle with Medicare or Social Security.”
That reaffirms a Trump campaign promise. If House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) consents — and cedes ground on reforming or privatizing those programs — he could deprive Democrats of a talking point they’ve used for years against the GOP.
Given the moment’s clean slate, the party has an opportunity to shed other policy baggage as well.
Trump’s denunciation of the long-unpopular Iraq invasion paves over the path followed by the “neoconservative” George W. Bush administration.
After eight years, it is President Barack Obama whose foreign policies stand to be criticized.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s clear election support for Trump spawned accusations of foreign collusion from both Democrats and old-line Republicans.
Trump’s counterclaim is that he only seeks peace and friendship in Eastern Europe.
Remember that at the GOP convention last summer, the Trump campaign removed from the platform a call for giving Ukraine weapons to fight Russian and rebel forces.
Some are already casting Democrats as backward-looking, hawkish Cold Warriors.
A potentially bigger opening for the party to ditch past orthodoxies and build a more populist message comes in economic policy.
The Republican-controlled Senate and House look far more likely to approve massive new infrastructure spending than they would have under lame-duck President Barack Obama.
No longer must the GOP gridlock such plans in the name of fiscal conservatism or lecture the “in” party that government doesn’t work as a job creator.
Whether such spending, along with tax cuts, would really pay for themselves as Trump suggests — through a promised economic boom — becomes tomorrow’s problem.
Selling NAFTA-like trade deals proved politically impossible during the campaign. Opposing them marked one area where Trump and Democratic labor activists agreed.
Last May, Trump told Bloomberg Businessweek: “Five, 10 years from now — different party. You’re going to have a worker’s party, a party of people that haven’t had a real wage increase in 18 years, that are angry.”
Would the congressional majorities and state Republican activists go along? What, if anything, might this look like in practice?
Trump already is using his bully pulpit to threaten and cajole individual corporations into concessions he wants. The departure from familiar Republican ways surfaced with Trump’s dealing on jobs with the Carrier Corp. in Indiana.
None other than Trump supporter Sarah Palin said: “Republicans oppose this, remember? Instead, we support competition on a level playing field, remember? Because we know special interest crony capitalism is one big fail.”
She even called Trump’s move “socialism.”
Maybe that kind of argument will survive as a core party principle.
Maybe it won’t.
Either way, Republicans have a whole new set of post-inaugural options to explore.