[T]he example of [Newt] Gingrich the way that he’s sought after as a wise man by Republicans, and the way that both the right-wing media and the mainstream press tend to give him more credit as a thinker than he deserves suggests that precisely because the G.O.P. currently has a reputation for being anti-intellectual, there’s a huge upside for a Republican politician in being identified as that rarest of species a “conservative with domestic policy ideas.” (For a small-bore example of how this works, look at Paul Ryan, who’s made a substantial name for himself by being one of the few House Republicans willing to get into the weeds on health care reform.) Of course identity politics and symbolic appeals will always matter more than substance, and political careers will never be made on wonkery alone. But even or especially in today’s Republican Party, being known as a thoughtful politician seems much more likely to help you than to hurt you.
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