PALO ALTO, Calif.—A few minutes into the conservative policy seminar, the economist John Cochrane made a point of clarification. “This is not,” he specified, “advice for a Trump administration.”
At Cochrane’s elbow, George Shultz, the former secretary of state, muttered, “God help us.”
Shultz, the Republican elder statesman and veteran of the Nixon and Reagan administrations, had spent the preceding months assembling a far-reaching book of policy recommendations on matters domestic and foreign on behalf of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He commissioned a decorated group of experts—men and women with gaudy constellations of letters after their names, generals and ambassadors and national-security experts—to pen chapters outlining their vision for such topics as health-care reform, banking legislation, counterterrorism strategy, and the U.S. posture toward Asia. On Monday, the group summoned a group of reporters here for a special summit to unveil these policy ideas—grandly titled Blueprint for America—to the world.
“Hopefully,” said John Cogan, a Hoover economist who wrote the Blueprint chapter on entitlements, “these ideas will be picked up by some enterprising politician.”
Hope springs eternal for the Republican Party-in-exile. The vast apparatus of right-wing policy, built up over decades and seeded with millions of dollars to promote a conservative vision, has never seemed more quaintly irrelevant than it does today. Despite various attempts to allude to the world beyond this leafy campus, an air of unreality hung over the proceedings. In a presidential campaign year in which no candidate seems remotely interested in the fine points of conservative policy, what was it all for?