There's been a lot of soul-searching among Republicans and conservatives - the two intersect but they're not necessarily the same thing - after last Tuesday's election results.
Much of it has focused on how Republicans should bend their principles to appeal to the demographic reality of a "browning" of America. In my opinion this is foolish advice. If conservative principles are right then they should be non-negotiable and not subject to compromise.
What conservatives do need, however, are candidates who are more sophisticated concerning the cultural milieu of modern America than some of GOP candidates have shown themselves to be.
Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Rick Perry, and even Mitt Romney simply don't seem to understand how their words, particularly what they say about abortion, sound to the average voter, especially the average low-information voter. What they say may reflect a mainstream view, but to media elites they sound like they're way out on the fringe and the elites are delighted to portray them that way.
We need candidates who are rhetorically sophisticated, who are conversant with the culture, who are at ease with people from outside their socio-economic class, and who understand that the media will forgive almost anything a Democrat says (Joe Biden is exhibit A) but relentlessly excoriate anything at all uttered by a Republican.
Contrary to what some are saying this week, Republicans don't need to trim their message to appease interest groups like African-Americans, Hispanics, women, or young people. Instead they need to be able to articulate a cogent case for why their principles are in the best interest of all Americans.
Let the Democrats indulge in identity politics and class warfare. Conservatives need to tirelessly make the case that the government is, as Rush Limbaugh says, not Santa Claus, and that those who want more and more from government are ultimately harming both themselves and their communities. Republican candidates do, however, need to spend time in those communities and show the people there that they're not being written off. They need to make the case for conservative principles to the people who don't understand them and do it, not from afar, but from within the communities in which those people live. It does little good to make the conservative case over and over, as talk radio hosts do, to audiences which already accept it.
Speaking of talk radio, although their message is fine, the way the message is delivered is often embarrassing and self-defeating. Conservatives, in my opinion, need to get rid of the shrill and pompous voices on radio and television which do nothing but alienate those who are not already in the conservative camp and which even repel many who are already in the fold. Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Michael Savage, Mark Levin, and the Rush Limbaugh of recent years need to either change their style or stop speaking on behalf of conservatism because they're doing the cause no favors. They may be right on the issues, they may be informative and offer good insights into contemporary debates, but all that goes for naught if they're only preaching to the choir while offending those who might from time to time stop by to see what conservatism is all about.
Conservatism would be better served and seem much more appealing to those people conservatives wish to persuade if there were more people like the late William F. Buckley fighting the good fight. Conservatism needs more columnists like George Will, Michael Gerson, Cal Thomas, and Peggy Noonan and more radio hosts like Mike Huckabee and Dennis Prager. We need people who can defeat liberalism not by out-shouting it, but by showing with humility the bankruptcy of its basic philosophy in a calm, respectful, humorous and winsome manner.
Sure, there's a time for anger and indignation, but if that's all there is, and if the messenger is typically rude, arrogant, obnoxious, childish, or narcissistic, or worse, if they're all of these together (as, in my opinion, Hannity is), if, when a listener tunes in, all he/she hears is a screed from beginning to end, it's repulsive.
The country needs liberals to call our attention to social problems. They're especially good at spotting them, but their solutions to those problems are often wrong-headed. The country needs conservatives to implement wise solutions, and it needs skillful spokespersons who can persuade those who may be historically averse to the Republican party to articulate in compelling ways why the Republican party offers, at least right now, the only hope that those solutions will ever see the light of day.