Marco Rubio
Sen. Marco Rubio at the 2012 CPAC convention (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The president has deservedly been criticized for insulting his political opponents, creating straw men and sowing divisiveness. The mainstream media call this “bold” or “confident,” but it is not a model to be imitated.

Republicans have their own language problems. They can do without “anchor babies” and “self-deportation,” which make immigrants sound like chattel. They should abandon “culture of dependency,” which only brings back bad memories of Mitt Romney’s 47 percent and is subject to continual misinterpretation. (Better to say what they favor, namely the “dignity of work” and the “satisfaction of earned success.”)

Since government is not remotely small (and won’t be), better for Republicans to sound like they are of this century and refer to “limited government” or “nimble government.” Instead of the clinical “income inequality,” they need to speak about “spreading success” and “expanding the American dream.”

You think this is small stuff? Hardly. The rhetoric and the messenger is most of what ordinary, non-politically obsessed voters take in. If Republicans are angry and accusatory and use language to demean other Americans (“looking for a free lunch”) they wind up behind before the debate gets started.

Republicans are so used to talking to each other via blogs, radio talk shows, conservative conferences and right-leaning think tanks that they seem to have forgotten how to talk to people who aren’t hard-core conservatives.

The people saying Republicans have to make the case for conservatism or need people to make the conservative message often want the speakers just to yell louder and be more dismissive of those who differ. In fact, they have to change the vocabulary of conservatism and the focus from abstract principles to real people.

It is good that Republicans are rethinking their message and their political operation. But if they only double down on what they are already doing, they will make matters worse, not better.

At the Republican National Convention, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) gave one of the better speeches and the most accurate indictments of the president without calling him a “socialist.” Here’s how he described Obama’s big-government approach:

“These ideas don’t move us ‘Forward,’ they take us ‘Backwards.’ These are tired and old big government ideas. Ideas that people come to America to get away from. Ideas that threaten to make America more like the rest of the world, instead of helping the world become more like America.”

Instead of talking in the language of conservatism, as the right often demands of conservatives, he makes conservatism understood by a diverse audience.

There are lots of other examples. But if conservatives want to work on their message, they shouldn’t follow the direction of the crowd that brought the party Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle. Instead, they should take notes from someone who wins over people who aren’t already conservatives. They know something the rest of the party doesn’t.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.