Mark Hillman

After being routed at the polls for two consecutive election cycles, Republicans are turning introspective, asking how the party fell out of favor so suddenly and how to correct course.

That introspection includes the inevitable catharsis that exacerbates tensions within the existing right-center political coalition.

Conservatives say moderates were too squishy, especially on spending matters. Moderates say conservatives were too rigid, particularly on social issues. Libertarians say both conservatives and moderates are correct in their diagnoses but wrong in their prescriptions.

The reality again harkens to Lord Acton's admonition about the corrupting influence of power. Contrary to advertising messages in the recent months, Republicans are people, too, which renders them just as susceptible to allure of authority as their Democrat counterparts.

Sen. Tom Coburn, first elected to the House in the 1994 "Republican revolution," observed in his book, Breech of Trust, that former Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Majority Leader Dick Armey, vanguards of the 1994 Republican revolution, quickly became too focused on retaining power rather than advancing the agenda that brought them victory.

With a few exceptions, like reforming welfare and balancing the budget, Republicans' track record proves Coburn right. Now that Gingrich and Armey have escaped the vortex of elected office, they have re-emerged as leading advocates for governance guided by conservative standards.

Similarly, George W. Bush did not win election by promising to expand Medicare entitlements or by declaring that his chief foreign policy goal would be to "make the world safe for democracy." While those policies may have produced some short-term political gain, their long-term results eroded the public's confidence in Bush's ability and his party.

So, were the last two elections a referendum on the Republican Party's core principles or its ability to deliver?

Numerous polls confirm that voters simply lost faith in Republicans but remain strongly supportive of core conservative tenants like limited government and low tax rates.

Rasmussen found that 59% of voters still agree with Ronald Reagan's assessment that, more often than not, government is the problem, not the solution. Another survey, taken immediately after the election, found that 63% believe that tax cuts are the best economic stimulus, compared to just 20% who want more government spending.

Mark Hillman

Mark Hillman is a Colorado native, a farmer, "recovering journalist" and a former Majority Leader of the Colorado Senate.