When I stand in front of a mirror, sipping from a Big Gulp, talking to myself and saying things like, “Don’t worry, champ! You’ll get ‘em next time! You’re a star! If they can’t see it, they’re the problem!” it is, at best, the explanation for everything that has ever been wrong with my dating life, and, at worst, a worrisome sign that my mind is unraveling.

But when large chunks of the conservative movement get together and do exactly the same thing, they call it CPAC.

When you talk to yourself, one of two things happens. You tell yourself that everything is great and that you are right and everyone else is a fool who deserves eight years of Hillary Clinton. Or you curl up in a corner and murmur, “No one likes you. You’re weird and dull and look like the creature that comes out of the swamp at the end of the movie and eats everyone. Go sit in a hole and eat celery and rethink your life.”

The first was what happened at CPAC. The second seems to be dominating the RNC’s fairly harsh report on 2012: What Went Wrong.

Still, I have to admit to a little confusion. After swinging by CPAC last week and listening to a number of the speeches, the RNC’s new “autopsy” report on the 2012 election came as a total shock. As far as I could tell from the speeches, everything was going great. They sounded exactly like what I tell myself in the mirror before big presentations.

“We don’t need a new idea,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said. “The idea is called America, and it still works.”

Mitt Romney, while admitting that he probably wasn’t the best person to chart the course forward, said, “It’s fashionable in some circles to be pessimistic about America, about conservative solutions, about the Republican Party. I utterly reject that pessimism. We may not have carried the day last November 7th, but we haven’t lost the country we love, and we haven’t lost our way.”

And Sarah Palin said, among other things,

“Even our guys in the GOP too often have a habit of reading their stage directions, especially these days. They are being too scripted, too calculated. They talk about rebuilding the party. How about rebuilding the middle class? They talk about rebranding the GOP instead of restoring the trust of the American people.

Now we can’t just ignore, though, that . . . we just lost a big election. We came in second out of two. Second position on the dogsled team is where the view never changes and the view ain’t pretty.

We need to figure out, then, our job. What will we do next? As we go about that, as we talk to one another, and listen to what the speakers have to say, let’s be clear about one thing: We’re not here to rebrand a party, we’re here to rebuild a country.

We’re not here to dedicate ourselves to new talking points coming from Washington, D.C. We’re not here to put a fresh coat of rhetorical paint on our party. We are not here to abandon our principles in a contest of government giveaways. That’s a game we will never, ever win. We are here to restore America, and the rest is just theatrics; the rest is just sound and fury. It’s just making noise, and that sums up the job President Obama does today.”

Then she took a sip from a Big Gulp.

It ain’t broke, seemed to be the consensus. In this breakup, it’s not we, the speakers said. It’s you. If there were a break-up at all, which might be in doubt when the unskewed vote totals come in. We are perfect and gorgeous and correct.

Contrast this to the RNC’s Growth and Opportunity Project report, which should have picked as its insignia an elephant with a thundercloud hovering over its head. Its forecast was a bit glummer.

Voters who had recently left the party were asked to describe Republicans. “They said that the Party is ‘scary,’ ‘narrow minded,’ and ‘out of touch’ and that we were a Party of ‘stuffy old men.'”

“This,” the report noted dryly, “is consistent with the findings of other post-election surveys.”

“We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue,” the report also noted.

In a sentence: “The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself.” Don’t ask the choir what’s the matter with its preaching. The choir will respond that the audience gets bored too easily and doesn’t know what’s good for it.

Stop talking to yourself, but for real this time. Don’t just talk to yourself with different, focus-grouped talking points. There is nothing worse than when you think someone’s talking to you and it turns out he is just muttering to himself, facing in your direction. That’s a real possibility, still, as the report notes. Change has to be about more than just outreach. Don’t put new people in the brochures to give the appearance that they’re involved. Really involve them. Survival demands actual inclusion, becoming a party of multiple, vibrant ideas that benefits from a range of viewpoints and experiences — not a party whose range of ideas is circumscribed by the talking heads in padded radio studios and TV sets rambling to themselves and limiting the opportunity of anyone else to talk to others.

Stop talking to yourself. You don’t want to be that guy debating his own echo as everyone else on the bus inches away. You’re creeping out the people on the sidewalk. If you really want to make friends, talk to the people you’re spooking now. Heck, don’t just talk to them. Listen to them.

But that’s the hardest part.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.
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