In the first flush of post-election analysis, a lot of pundits are pointing to the massive structural problems within the modern Republican Party.
And it’s true that the GOP has embraced policies and ideas that have steadily alienated the minorities — primarily Hispanics — who make up the fastest-growing slice of the American electorate.
Conservatives have also infuriated many women (who went for Barack Obama by double-digit margins Tuesday) with bitter and divisive talk about rape and abortion and contraceptives.
Women, it happens, are on the rise in our society, taking more positions of power, moving into careers that generate more wealth, and earning more high-level college degrees.
So yes, Republicans are on the wrong side of history when it comes to appealing to the next generation of American voters.
But that’s not the whole story.
The bigger, more painful truth is that conservatives — who once prided themselves on being realistic, grounded pragmatists — have embraced a basket of ideas that range from the fanciful to the frightening.
Global warming is probably the easiest place to start this conversation. Scientists say it’s real. Scientists say we’re causing it. And those same scientists say climate change poses huge dangers to our society.
Yet many conservatives continue to simply pretend it’s not true, exhibiting the same kind of magical thinking they accused hippies of indulging in through the 1960s and ’70s.
The same goes for modern conservative economics. The Ayn Randian vision of all-powerful and benevolent free markets is idealistic to the point of dreaminess.
Yes, capitalism is a powerful and important tool, one of the pillars of our society.
But without progressive tax policies, common sense regulation, and other modest interventions by a democratically elected civil authority, capitalism produces some really awful things, ranging from huge income inequality to toxic medicines.
That’s not an ideological argument. It is observed, recorded fact.
It is also long past time for Republicans to finally and utterly abandon a political brand based in large measure on appealing to the racial anxieties of white people.
The GOP — in its common-sense era — was the laboratory for pro-active thinking about civil rights, economic fairness and racial equity.
But too many party leaders have bought into the “southern strategy” delusion that people of color are lazy, or unAmerican, or — I’m not making this up — diseased.
So enough already with the “bell curve” winking and “welfare queen” nudging and the “urban” dog whistling. Enough of Fox News’ fixation with the one pathetic Black Panther activist standing outside the polling station.
Those characterizations of minorities in America aren’t factually true and they’re not helping the conservative movement win elections, not anymore.
The GOP also has a big problem with politicians who are, bluntly and plainly, incompetent or nutty. When you have top-tier Senate candidates talking about “legitimate” rape, it’s bad — very bad.
When many of your most prominent legislators are people like Michelle Bachmann and Alan West, it’s bad, very bad. And when your most prominent voices are bigoted oafs or crude parodies like Rush Limbaugh and Donald Trump, it’s even worse.
Finally Republicans have to get over their phobia about cities. American cities are where most of the wealth and culture are created in our society. That’s where most of our people live.
That’s not to say that anyone wants to abandon beautiful elements of our small town roots, but it’s time to acknowledge that East LA is just as true to our culture as Mayberry.
The modern conservative claim is that without this kind of looniness, this ginned-up base froth, the GOP just can’t win elections.
But that argument is belied by the long and honorable track record of post-War Republican policy moderates who won handily, from Dwight Eisenhower to Richard Nixon to George H.W. Bush.
And it’s also belied by yesterday’s dismal results, in the presidential race and in Senate contests.
So how does the Republican Party begin to turn the corner, rediscovering its good old fashioned boring sense of responsible political and fiscal duty?
The first step is to acknowledge that Barack Obama is the legitimate president of the United States, a man who despite his skin color, his middle name, his Chicago roots, and his post-modern life story is every bit as “real” and American as any other citizen.
The second step is to confront the reality that he’s not outside the political mainstream in our Republic, and never has been.
That’s not to say Republicans have to agree with his ideas. But when the president talks about returning taxation levels to those of the Clinton years, it’s not radical communism, or anti-capitalism, or a secret Muslim colonial-hating plot.
It’s just a policy that you oppose. And that’s enough.
When he creates an oversight board to propose new ways to reduce the costs of Medicare, it’s not a “death” panel. It’s just a policy you oppose. And that’s enough.
And when he uses measures like an industry bail-out or a stimulus — which have been standard tools for managing economies for decades — he’s not staging a socialist coup.
In practical terms, this means Republican leaders should fundamentally and publicly reject the idea that anyone should want our elected president to fail.
Top GOP officials should make it clear that they plan to compromise with their President, offering significant concessions on everything from healthcare to taxes to entitlements – and that they fully expect him to compromise in turn.
Then conservatives should pivot to the real task at hand, which is dragging their own movement and party back to the real principles of American conservatism — moderation, civility, pragmatism, fact-based thinking and fiscal responsibility.
When this work is done, our nation will be a little less divided, a little less unhinged.
And in 2016, Republicans might just win back a sizable chunk of Hispanic and perhaps even African American votes, while also healing their dangerous rift with women.