[Fred] Thompson thus becomes one pole in the debate now roiling the G.O.P. Nobody is running as the continuation of Bush. The big question now is: should the party go back to the basics or should it jump forward and transform itself into something new? Thompson articulates the back-to-basics view in its purest form. Newt Gingrich articulates the transformational view in its purest form. The other candidates are a mishmash in between.
If I were a political consultant I would tell my candidate to play up Thompson’s back-to-basics theme. This is a traumatized party, not in the mood for anything risky and new. But over the long run, back to basics is no solution because it doesn’t produce a positive agenda for today’s problems.
In between is the right place to be on this one because there isn't a simple answer on where the GOP needs to head. It must find its center again on fundamentals like competent and efficient government, personal responsibility, and a strong, multi-faceted foreign policy. But in many other ways, it must find a coherent message for change, one that for example embraces environmentalism, de-emphasizes religious dogma, and adapts to the drastic changes to the social and economic landscape of the last 20+ years.
In a practical sense, Brooks is probably right on in recommending a candidate preach "back to basics," but govern transformationally. It may not be very inspirational, but make no mistake, the party must reinvent itself.