Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivers remarks during the second day of CPAC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images) Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

It should be reassuring to conservatives — as opposed to reactionaries — that for all the huffing and puffing from Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and the constant shrieking from outfits like Heritage Action, a mere 10 senators have joined the suicide leap. For the GOP’s long-term interests, that is reassuring.

The speaker of the House told his conference that a shutdown scheme is not the way to go. While loud critics in the GOP conference may protest, there is no sign, so far, that he will lose control of his members.

In short, when liberals say “the GOP believes” or “the GOP wants,” they generally refer to the most extreme elements who believe or want crazy things. It is not accurate or fair to paint a rump (13 of 45 senators) as illustrative of the party as a whole, but who can blame the left? Given the choice between making the GOP into the party of Cruz or the party of, say, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), it is a no-brainer.

By contrast, Republicans find the views of the large majority of elected Democrats more than sufficient to castigate. Tax hikes, abortion on demand, Obamacare, gun control, domestic spending increases, massive cuts in national security spending and climate control regulation are supported by the overwhelming number of elected Democrats and the president, so there is no denying that the GOP is accurately representing its opposition’s positions.

In 2014, then, Republicans can point to the prospect of one-party government and the policies that would entail to deter voters from delivering both houses of Congress to the Democrats. Democrats must point to the GOP fringe and argue that it would dominate the party if the GOP wins the House and Senate. This, among other reasons, is why it is essential for the Republicans in the House and Senate to do two things.

First, the illogical and extreme schemes on the right (e.g. shutdown) and the obnoxious rhetoric of a few (e.g. Iowa Rep. Steve King’s comments on illegal immigrants) must be decisively rebuffed. (So far, the non-crazies are doing a fairly good job of this, but immigration reform remains a struggle.) But that is the easy part.

More important even than defeating the extremists is for the remainder of the GOP — House and Senate — to lay out its own agenda. What isn’t spelled out, the Democrats will fill in with a parade of horribles. (Austerity! Tax cuts for the rich! Take away health care!) This is where Republicans such as Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin must step into the breach, cajoling the party into presenting and unifying behind some basic policy initiatives with enough detail to give voters comfort.

It is not enough to say “tax reform.” Voters need to know the poor and middle class won’t pay more, the charitable deduction won’t vanish and corporations will have an incentive to return overseas profits to the United States to hire and expand U.S. operations. Likewise on Obamacare, it is insufficient to say “a market-based health-care plan” will replace Obamacare; virtually no one knows what that means. Republicans should understand: Whatever they don’t fill in, Democrats will do for them, drawing on the nuttiest and most extreme Republicans’ ideas.

The GOP’s job in 2014 isn’t easy. It requires discipline and bold leadership. But the Democrats’ dilemma is worse; they must distance themselves from years of votes and pronouncements that rub voters the wrong way. The only danger for Republicans is if they perceive it is sufficient simply to tie Democrats to their records. Republicans have to show they have something better — and it won’t be the sort of hooey coming from its rump group.