Mark Davis

The cruel reality of the election of 2012 is the millions of voters who agree with many Republican ideas but voted for Obama anyway, or did not vote at all. Success is found in compelling these people to vote for us.

Many are already socially conservative, especially in minority communities. The message of protecting the unborn and standing up for heterosexual marriage is a winner, not only in conservative America, but in middle America.

It is crazy that we actually have to teach Civics 101 to millions of people, but if we do, we do. So get ready to spend four years telling people that while our candidates are going to be socially conservative, abortion and gay marriage are properly settled in the states, not the Oval Office, and from abortions to contraception, their availability is not a White House issue, but who pays for it is. Then we pivot to things that are a President’s daily concern.

National security and the economy are at the top of that list. It is impossible to know how war-weary America will be in 2016, but we can never mitigate our high ground as the party that seeks to speak truth to evil around the world. I pray it will not take an Iranian nuclear strike on Israel or another 9/11 to open our eyes to the dangers of losing our focus in this regard.

There can always be thoughtful debate over where to mobilize American troops and how to maximize the deterrent effect of our defense spending. But there should be no doubt that our party, and our 2016 nominee, will have no more of “leading from behind” or further mortgaging the American leadership role which has made the world safer for well over a century.

While that is a message seasoned over the passage of years, we face a fast-approaching economic turnstile which could define the party for most of the days until the off-year vote of 2014, if not the entire remaining Obama presidency.

Amid all the shrill talk of fiscal “cliffs,” clarity is vital: Republicans either are, or are not, willing to cave in to people who say some of us are not taxed enough and we do not spend enough.

We must say no to such obscenity. We can talk all day, or all year, about how to package this so that women or voters of color or the youngsters will grasp why we do this, but along the way we simply cannot compromise on this. Pollster and word maven Frank Luntz will tell you that “wasteful Washington spending” is a term that will get three-quarters of America to nod in approval. It is about time we find a way to skillfully connect with those people.

So is there no issue that is ripe for reconsideration? Is our entire mission to stay the course ideologically, but repackage?

Apparently not.

There is a growing choir in American conservatism that is changing a few pages in the hymnal. We are realizing that on the issue of immigration, the familiar strains of mass deportation are getting us clobbered.

Much of the criticism is grossly dishonest. From strong borders to deporting lawbreakers to refusing to invite further illegals with the DREAM Act or guest worker programs, there is not one shred of hostility toward Hispanics or immigrants in general.

Conservative opposition has been based on the rule of law. We have turned our heads as millions have streamed illegally into a country that cannot afford to absorb them. Forgiving and forgetting are hard under such circumstances.

But that is apparently what large majorities want to do, and they are not all liberal. From a business community that values the labor force, to a broad slice of the public that cannot stomach banishing those who have come here for a better life, America clearly wants to find a way to allow illegals to work and raise families along a path to citizenship.

So we have a choice. If we stick with the idea of rounding up every illegal alien and shipping them back to their mother countries, complete with their America-loving teenagers with 4.0 grade-point averages, we will commit electoral suicide.

But this is not like the morally-based social issues, where laxitude is out of the question, or economic issues, where to compromise is to slit the nation’s fiscal throat.

As a nation, we can have whatever immigration laws we like. I have spent years backing serious consequences for violating America’s borders, and I do not easily give ground on that view.

But there is a deal I am willing to strike.

My opposition to guest worker programs and the DREAM Act and various other gifts to illegals has been the certain magnet they will create for future millions who will follow in their footsteps.

Only one thing will stop that. Only one thing can allow principled conservatives to seek common ground on a path to accommodate illegals who are already here.

That is a border that actually means something.

This is a tall order. It may require vast increases in border patrol, or long miles of walls, real or virtual. We can start talking about that right now.

But if the talk is serious, and unencumbered by the nonsense that even strong borders are somehow anti-Hispanic or anti-immigrant, maybe we can find consensus on what to do with the illegals who are here already.

For too long, we have ignored our immigration laws to curry favor with Latinos and liberals of every other race. If we want to change those laws so that they can be respected again, let the process begin with a border that does what borders are supposed to do.

Once we achieve this, we may well want to make it easier to immigrate legally. If we are actually beginning to stem the tide of new illegals, that is well worth considering, as long as we are making clear that the path to citizenship for past illegals will involve some consequences, some taxes or penalties and an obligation to assimilate through English proficiency.

This complete package creates a landscape of laws that can be widely respected and actually enforced. And it could be part of a message that will open the door for millions of voters of every race and age and sex, to consider Republicans they would otherwise reject.