There is no point in spinning -- conservatives need to face honestly what this election means.
A first take: Gov. Mitt Romney tried to win while leaning on only one leg of the old Reagan coalition: jobs, jobs, jobs, economy, economy, economy. Against a president with a poor record on the economy, he lost.
The Mitch Daniels "truce" strategy on social issues is a clear loser in this election. The Reagan coalition, which honestly may not be the pathway to victory moving forward, had three legs: values issues, national defense and economic growth.
Romney adopted the most ineffectual strategy vis-a-vis the social issues: adopt them, and therefore adopt the negatives for them, but refuse to fight for them when challenged. The GOP ended up defending rape exceptions to abortion -- our very weakest turf -- in part because we refused to make any arguments that reflected the electorate's profound distaste for sex-selection abortions, late-term abortions or government-funded abortions.
The truce strategy means we have all the negatives of our social issues and none of the positives.
Secondly, the Romney weakness. Let's be honest: The money guys bought the GOP nomination for a candidate who voters didn't like very much. Romney won by pummeling his opponents with negative ads. He lost the same way because he did not have a 5-to-1 money advantage over Obama. The "money primary" is key in the early selection process. The money guys need to re-evaluate who is a winning candidate -- or continue to pour resources into losing.
This is not an argument for Rick Santorum or any other particular candidate. It was just obvious that Romney could not win, and could not appeal to blue-collar voters, without pummeling his opponents with massive money. It's not a strategy for victory.
The most important point: Either we figure out how to win a much larger share of the Latino vote or the conservative movement could be over. Karl Rove's Crossroads strategy of appealing to Latinos only on economic issues is a clear failure. I think social issues are part, but only part, of a serious effort to appeal to Latino voters. We also need to show them we care about them by doing something about the DREAM Act, and religious conservatives should take the lead on this.
In the past, conservatives tried to trot out economic corporate voice for immigration reform. This failed to persuade the base of the party. Religious conservatives need to take the lead in making the case for some vision of immigration reform that communicates to Hispanic evangelicals and Catholics that we care about the well-being of them and their families.
At the same time, we need to reject visibly the view that the ordinary human concern of blue-collar whites about lawless immigration represents racism.
Only the Southern Baptists (who endorsed a pathway to citizenship in 2011) and Catholic conservatives have a credible route to making a persuasive case that does not disrupt the base of the party.
Finally, the Obama electorate defeated marriage. Marriage lost for the first time in all four deep blue states it was on the ballot. We were outspent 8-to-1 -- and few Republicans were willing to speak for marriage, while the whole Democratic establishment and Hollywood campaigned for gay marriage. Last night really is a big loss -- no way to spin it.
But here's the thing: In each of these states, the silent Romney lost even bigger. Marriage outpolled the truce candidate in these deep blue territories by 10 or more points.
The way forward is not the way back. There is an opportunity in this defeat to reassess the conventional wisdom of the GOP.
If we fail, the conservative movement is over.