As a liberal I appreciate your efforts and those of other conservatives to keep things clear in the aftermath of the Republican defeat. As a political scientist, I think “reformist” Republicans are generally not developing a very sound analysis of their party’s problems. Any party, left, right, or anything else, would have been seriously affected by the economic crisis of today if it had a president in office at the time. There was really no way McCain could avoid being lumped together with Bush, and thus get tarred with the same brush.
As for social conservatism as a problem, I think just the opposite is true. Social conservatives are the core of the party and the party’s strategists and professional chatterers should never get too far from that core.
My advice to the Republicans is this: Now is the time to cull insufficiently conservative politicians and opinion leaders from the party. The party needs to become much more self-consciously right-wing and ideologically intransigent. Between now and the next presidential election, conservatives need to complete their full take-over of the party and need to do everything they can to mobilize Americans in the name of conservatism.
By 2012, party strategists should have a very clear idea about what they want to do. They should have several right-wing potential candidates willing and able to broaden the appeal of the party. But the appeal of the party should be understood as the appeal of conservatism, not some opportunistic set of compromises with the left. Such an approach won’t work.
While I certainly do not wish conservatives or Republicans well, I want them to stand for what they truly believe, and make their appeal to the American voting public on that basis. Think right, run right, govern right. Anything less will only disappoint all of you.