Matthew Yglesias suspects that
Republicans want to want to roll back the welfare state but on some important level don't actually want to do it. The way through is to refuse to cut Medicare and Social Security while insisting that anti-tax ideology is what's preventing them from agreeing to cuts. But back in 2003 when they ran the zoo, that anti-tax ideology compelled them to cut taxes and they simultaneously increased Medicare benefits.
I take Yglesias' point. But Republicans have, since 2003, veered rightward with such astonishing acceleration that they're largely incomparable to the safety netters of yesteryear. What's been consistent throughout the Republican Party's more recent strain of reactionary nihilism, however, is the party's old opportunism--which is to say, its remorseless indifference to real principles or sound policy.
"Hey, you want drug benefits as an 'entitlement' in 2003? No problem. You got 'em. You now want the 'takers' reined in? Again, no problem. Happy to oblige. Oh, you hate deficits? Well you're in luck, because so do we. Ever since January 2009.
"Look folks, let's just be honest here. We're for whatever works for us politically, which means whatever excites our ever-narrowing, excitable base."
Which is why it's so confoundingly difficult to nail down just what this mess of a grandly opportunistic party is really all about.