“We had a chance,” Santorum told her. “It was called the last election.”
So much for comfort and joy.
Not quite six weeks after Republicans lost a presidential contest that many of them thought was in the bag, the shock has begun to wear off. The recriminations, on the other hand, are likely to go on for quite some time.
And the tough work — figuring out what needs fixing — has only just begun.
Some Republicans still argue that nothing is fundamentally wrong with the party. Or nothing that a better get-out-the-vote operation, a field of more appealing candidates, and more outreach to Hispanics and women wouldn’t repair.
But others are coming to the conclusion that the problem goes deeper than that, to the party’s philosophy and policies, which are getting further out of step with the nation.
“Republicans have lost a majority of the popular vote in five out of the last six elections,” GOP pollster Whit Ayres said. “There’s a message there. The Republicans need a new business model, and a new product for the new century. It’s not just a problem of one candidate or one campaign.”
That gloomy assessment is shared even by some of the GOP’s most ardent ideological warriors.
“We have extraordinarily real and deep problems,” former House speaker and 2012 presidential contender Newt Gingrich said in an interview. “We’re at a serious point, not a trivial point.”
The latest test of the weakened party’s philosophy is playing out now, in negotiations to avoid the “fiscal cliff.”
Nothing is more central to GOP self-identity than its drive to cut taxes. Conservative columnist Robert Novak used to remark that Republicans were put on this Earth for precisely that purpose.
The problem for them now is that the American public feels otherwise, at least when it comes to the breaks for the wealthy that were enacted under George W. Bush, which Obama promised to end if he were reelected.
“It may be that a majority of the public, having heard both sides of the argument, believes that upper-income people are undertaxed,” Peter Wehner, who was a top adviser in Bush’s White House, wrote in Commentary magazine. “If that’s the case, it would be a significant error for conservatives to assume we simply need to make the same arguments, only louder, with more passion, and with more charts and graphs.”
His column was headlined: “What If Conservatives Have Lost the Argument?”
One of the most-heated arguments at the moment is the one that is raging among Republicans themselves. In the postmortems following Mitt Romney’s defeat, there are factions that argue that the party should have presented a sharper contrast by demanding ideological purity, and others that say it doomed its nominee by doing exactly that.