Don't get too depressed, Republicans; the national decline will be divvied up justly. After all, in a liberal nation, there is no higher calling than fairness.
And a liberal nation it is. The electorate is complicated, and factors of culture and geography can dictate party identification more than any specific policy. And yes, the Republicans rolled out some ghastly candidates. But that shouldn't fool anyone; there's been a fundamental shift in how Americans view government's role in society, and the GOP is losing the argument.
There was no theoretical hope peddling this time around. There was a record. And Barack Obama also promised the most explicitly left-wing agenda in presidential history—more government, more taxes, more dependency, more bailouts, more regulations—and he won easily. He promised universal health care, more crony "investments" in proven economic losers, more interference in markets—yet he cruised.
Conservatives may be shocked by statist slogans such as the Democratic National Convention's "government's the only thing that we all belong to," and they may be scandalized when they hear a candidate say "you didn't build that," but their neighbors … well, not so much. When you can't beat a candidate who—judging him on his own terms—owns both a brutal economic record on jobs (this is the first time since FDR that a president has won re-election with an unemployment rate this high) and the feeblest economic recovery in the nation's history, it's time to rethink what you're doing.
No doubt, the battle for the future of the Republican Party will set the same exhausted factions against each other—moderate vs. conservative. It's the wrong fight. Moderate Mitt lost. Severely conservative Mitt lost. Candidates from both GOP camps lost all over the map, as well. In American politics, one can't be more reasonable than Scott Brown or more of an ideologue than Elizabeth Warren, yet look how that turned out. John Kerry lost his bid pretending to be a moderate, and Obama won by embracing the progressive left of his party. After the GOP 2010 midterm victory, the president didn't moderate; he doubled down.
I'd like to see Republicans change their tone and stands on a number of issues, but across-the-board moderating for its own sake is a soulless exercise and a losing proposition. Washington insiders might be astounded, but there are still people in this country who believe in things. But there are an array of issues and an array of solutions and an array of ways to approach them. They want to convince, not surrender.
Optics, rhetoric and perception matter. If Republicans have any hope of persuading independents, they'll need charismatic people, people who look and sound like a modern America and not a boardroom of Brahmin, because real-world competency is no match for fresh packaging and a good slogan. Welcome to democracy.
The fight starts in Congress. You've no doubt heard that the House is crammed with hard-core right-wingers, folks who have the temerity to represent constituents and take conservative positions. Well, this is also the most left-wing Senate in history. Warren, Sherrod Brown, Ben Cardin, et al. vote with socialist Bernie Sanders because—despite a gag order on the pundit class—by European standards, that's exactly what they are.
Whether Republicans mean what they say or not, there will be a distinct debate over the direction of the nation. Right now, left-wing economic populism is the political center. Republicans have a lot of the wrong people in a lot of the right places to change that. If that stands, they've lost for good.