In the aftermath of the 2008 election, the Republican Party has begun going through the litany of reasons that they lost. While the GOP must do many things better, the one thing that it must do if it wants to win back power is to put forward powerful ideas that persuade today's voters.
President-elect Barack Obama won a decisive victory over Sen. John McCain. Despite Mr. McCain's extraordinary record and his centrist credentials, Mr. Obama's twin themes of change and hope caught fire with American voters, and will now take him to the White House.
Recriminations are naturally flying around the GOP. Some are condemning this campaign as one of the worst in history, without a clear theme or overall strategy, inconsistent and reactionary tactics, a staff that excluded some of the best talent available, and a woeful lack of organization. Others are blaming the candidate, who despite his exceptional courage, honor and service, ruled certain topics and tactics off-limits that could have been devastatingly effective. Some blame missed opportunities. Some blame President Bush. Others blame Sarah Palin. Many blame the response to the economic meltdown.
But the truth is the only way the Republican Party can regain power is through having better ideas. State constitutional amendments protecting traditional marriage passed in several states, including liberal California. Other conservative measures passed in various states. These show America is still a center-right nation. Voters have not rejected conservative principles, and in fact still favor them.
In one sense, elections are simply mathematics. If the GOP wants to regain power, it must communicate an agenda in such a way that it gets more than half of the voters to vote for it.
The electorate, however, is changing. Hispanics voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Obama over Mr. McCain. The Obama campaign also made gains among Catholics, immigrants, churchgoers, women and young voters. If Republicans want to retake the White House and Congress, they must find ways to appeal to those voters.
Republicans do not need to abandon their principles. Americans prefer lower taxes to higher taxes. They prefer strong national defenses to weakened defenses. They practice their faith and respect other faiths; they support marriage and the Second Amendment; they want strong families and strong homes. Americans also want personal liberty and economic opportunity. The Republican vision of Ronald Reagan can still win elections in this country.
But it can only if those principles express themselves in bold and innovative ideas, ideas that are reflected in a coherent series of specific policy proposals that are persuasively communicated to the voters. The Republicans did not do that in 2008, and lost.
Republicans lost more than the White House. For a second cycle in a row, the GOP suffered massive losses in the House and Senate, and in state races as well. The GOP appears to too many voters to be self-serving and ineffective. This appearance comes from the negligent and even criminal actions of some, actions that betray the principles Republicans are supposed to uphold. These actions are in turn a reflection on ineffective party leadership and a lack of party discipline, which is something the rank-and-file members of the party must remedy immediately.
Republicans will not regain power by becoming Democrat-like. They must instead come up with new ideas and proposals that will appeal to Hispanics, working-income families, women, young people and older people. They must communicate an agenda that effectively addresses education, retirement, jobs, the environment and the economy.
We don't just need better candidates and better campaigns. We do, but those will be insufficient if they are not built on the foundation of better ideas that embody our principles. Republicans lost because they deserved to lose. As a result, the American people have chosen to put the Democrats back in control of all of the levers of power at all levels of government.
That is the challenge facing the Republican Party. It's time to quit whining, acknowledge the problem, and then find a way to solve it. Republicans must offer a compelling vision of the future. If they do, the voters will trust them again and put them back into power.