Think of American conservatism as divided into three spheres: There’s the elite world of pundits and intellectuals (consisting of think tanks, policy journals, political magazines like National Review and The Weekly Standard, certain blogs, etc.), the broader world of “the movement” (consisting of populist media outlets like talk radio and Fox News, diffuse activist groups like the Tea Parties, websites like RedState and its imitators, and issue-based pressure groups like the N.R.A. and the National Right-to-Life Committee, etc.), and then the institutional world of the Republican Party (consisting of office-holders, staffers, fundraisers, consultants, etc.).
On domestic policy, I think the intellectual right doesn’t have nearly as much of a close-mindedness problem as many people seem to think.
The problem, as I’ve argued before, is that with rare exceptions (a Mitch Daniels, a Paul Ryan), there aren’t many Republican politicians who seem interested in taking up the best right-of-center policy ideas and fighting for them.
Douthat has a point here. There are conservatives out there who have ideas. They even have differing ideas. But the Republicans on the Hill seem uninterested in any of it. They're pandering to the movement and playing politics. The movement is playing to the worst (populist) parts of the electorate. "Populism" is a term that has become associated in my mind with one thing: MINE! That doesn't make for good policy. It does, unfortunately, make for good talking points, especially if you're willing to lie. And that's where the modern GOP is, for better or for worse.