After a GOP beating, there is always a debate between the people who want the party to become more principled and those who want to turn the GOP into a poll-driven pile of mush that they believe will be more appealing to centrists. The problem with this whole discussion is that the "we need to be more moderate" crowd tends to simply ignore a number of inconvenient facts that make their position completely untenable.
We've already gone the moderate route -- and lost. One of the most surreal aspects of the post-2008 campaign is listening to moderates pretend that the last eight years never happened.
You say that the GOP can't win as a small government party. Well, we've already tried being a big government party for the last 8 years and it failed. You think running a moderate, pro-amnesty candidate who eschews social issues is the key to winning elections? Well, that's who we ran in 2008 and he received even less votes than George Bush did in 2004.
Basically, we have a lot of moderates in the GOP taking the same attitude that the Left used to take towards communism, "It works, but it just hasn't been tried by the right people yet." It didn't make much sense when the lefties were saying it and it makes even less sense now.
A "moderate" GOP can't generate the volunteers or money needed to win. Yes, the GOP needs both moderate and conservative voters to win elections. Additionally, in certain districts and states, moderate Republicans are more electable than conservatives.
That being said, the rightward leaning media, fundraising, and campaign workers are dominated by conservatives. So, if the right side of the party is depressed, there's not enough money or campaign workers to go around and there isn't a strong pushback against the lies put out by Democrats.
That's exactly what happened over the last two election cycles, when the conservative base was too demoralized to generate enough excess cash and campaign workers to float the entire Republican Party. Many of the strongest Republicans managed to survive, but the more marginal Republicans, moderates in the West and Northeast, were practically wiped out.
There can be no fiscal conservatism in D.C. without social conservatism. There are some people who think the GOP needs to kick social conservatives to the curb and focus entirely on fiscal conservatism in order to help our election prospects, but they're missing three very important points.
#1) For the most part, fiscal conservatives are socially conservative and vice-versa. Yes, there are socially conservative Republicans who aren't fiscal conservatives (See George Bush for example), but they're not typical.
#2) In Congress, although there are exceptions, the overwhelming majority of Republicans who aren't socially conservative, aren't fiscally conservative either. Show me a Republican in Congress who's pro-abortion at least 75% of the time, I will show you a Republican who's a big spender, too.
#3) People who are most concerned about traditional values make up such a large block of voters that the GOP would be lucky to hold 100 seats in the House and 30 seats in the Senate without their help. So, if the social conservatives are sidelined, the fiscal conservatives will be sidelined by default, too, because they won't have the votes to get elected.
The GOP's drop amongst Hispanics hasn't been caused by opposition to illegal immigration. This myth, propagated by proponents of amnesty and open borders, doesn't bear up under scrutiny.
In 2000, George Bush received 35% of the Hispanic vote. In 2004, although the exit polls showed that Bush got 44% of the Hispanic vote, they were horribly flawed. Realistically, Bush probably pulled in 38%-39% of the Hispanic vote that year. In 2006, the GOP pulled 30% of the Hispanic vote and McCain captured about 31% of the Hispanic vote in 2008.
First off, the fact that McCain only pulled 31% of the Hispanic vote should prove once and for all that the amnesty issue doesn't move Hispanic votes over to the GOP. If it did, certainly McCain, who has been the biggest advocate of amnesty in the entire Republican Party would have been the candidate to do it.
Additionally, trying to pin the GOP’s drop with Hispanics on illegal immigration makes very little sense given that there are plenty of other groups whose support has dropped a similar amount over the same period of time as the GOP has become less popular.
For example, take the swing in the demographic numbers, from roughly 38% in 2004 to 31% in 2008. Now compare it to the shifts we saw in other demographic groups over that same time period: from 2004 to 2008 our Catholic support dropped 7 points, urban voters dropped 8 points, and non-religious voters dropped 8 points. In other words, the GOP has bled out with a large number of groups as it has become less popular, not just Hispanics. Since that’s the case, as we start to go in the right direction again, we have every reason to think the GOP can reach the same level of support from Hispanics it did in 2000 and 2004, whether we back amnesty or not.
The GOP cannot win without the conservative media. You may like talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity or you may not, but the reality is that the GOP absolutely cannot win elections when they're telling everyone who'll listen that the Republican Party is mediocre.
There are two reasons for that.
#1) Those radio hosts are popular in the first place largely because the conservatives who make up the GOP's base agree with them. If the talk show hosts are not happy with something, their listeners probably aren't happy with it either -- and making your core supporters happy is the first lesson of Politics 101.
#2) Because the mainstream media is so heavily biased towards the Democratic Party, most independent voters take what they say about Republicans with a grain of salt. However, independents perceive conservative talk radio hosts and their listeners to be on the "GOP's side." So, if they hear criticism of the Republican Party from those people, they tend to think it must be true.
So, Republicans can afford to have Keith Olbermann and Katie Couric telling people that they stink, but they can't win elections if conservative talk radio hosts, columnists, and bloggers are ripping them up one side and down the other.