Jonathan Chait had a good article about Paul Ryan's attempts to re-brand himself as a economic populist with stunts like going on Morning Joe to declare “I'm focused on poverty these days.” While also trying to cut anti-poverty programs like Medicaid and SNAP (the new version of food stamps). It touches a lot on the goofiness that is Paul Ryan but struck me as good evidence that the GOP reaction to the 2012 elections will be mainly cosmetic changes to things like messaging, with little if any change in the substance of policy.
After their 2012 election loss all sorts in the GOP and affiliated with it started talking about what went wrong and how to fix it. Some argued that what was needed was changes in messaging to appeal to the emerging segments of the electorate (minorities, women, young people) that have been shunning the GOP as of late. Another group felt that these defections where not do to poor communication strategies, but rather the fact that the GOP has lost touch with what voters are really concerned about, or at the very least what these particular groups care about.
For all the sound and fury surrounding people like Josh Barro, it still looks like the cosmetic messaging crowd is wining the argument. I've written before on what I think about Paul Ryan, but for better or for worse, he does seem to be the policy leader of today's Republican Party. The fact that he thinks his huge cuts to benefits to the poor will be okay as long as he says the correct talking points on Morning Joe seems really strong evidence that major policy changes are not in the works.
Maybe reformist forces will emerge as David Frum predicted above, who knows. But ever time I read a story like this I am struck by how difficult this change really is going to be. Adopting new political rhetoric is one of the easiest things to do in politics, and politicians do it all the time. By the way, this is a growing trend, the College Republicans came up with a very similar take: change the message, not the policy.