Now, what had seemed an orderly retreat has taken on the aspect of a rout, with Beltway Republicans calling for abandonment of fixed positions all along the line.
After Senate candidates Richard Mourdock in Indiana and Todd Akin in Missouri bollixed the question of abortion in cases of rape, Republicans are being counseled to downgrade or dump the social issues. As young people seem to support same-sex marriage, why not be good libertarians and get on board?
As Romney got 27 percent of the Hispanic vote, we must stop this talk of border fences, ID cards, employer sanctions and "self-deportation," and reconsider amnesty and a path to citizenship.
The party is being urged to shed positions dear to loyalists, to win over folks who voted for Obama. And those who urge the ditching of positions dear to the base are rewarded with indulgent media portrayals as Republican leaders who have "grown."
But there are two problems with this panicky reaction to defeat.
First, while the defections depress and dishearten the faithful, they rarely attract the disbelievers whom the switch is designed to appease. Second, such maneuvers are the indelible mark of the opportunist.
Which bring us to John Boehner's concessions to Obama to save us from going over the fiscal cliff.
Though a tax increase would violate party principle and a commitment to constituents just a month ago, and though Lord Keynes himself would argue that raising taxes in a limp economy is risky business, Boehner has offered Obama $800 billion in new tax revenues.
Yet, though Boehner is capitulating, the White House has backhanded his offer. The Clinton tax rates on the rich must be restored or no deal, says Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. Obama takes a more moderate position. We must raise both rates and revenues.
The purpose here? Rub Republican noses in their capitulation, and force a rupture within their party.
While the administration could reap far more revenue by capping and cutting deductions -- "tax expenditures" in the liberal catechism -- an increase in tax rates would be such a transparent surrender it would cause a rebellion in the House and demoralize the conservatives.
Why, then, are Republicans still bearing gifts to Obama, with a few even pushing for concessions on tax rates?
They are terrified of the fiscal cliff, and understandably so.
For if we go over, taxes rise on every family, and polls say that by 2 to 1 the people will hold Republicans responsible.