The future of conservatism obviously depends on the quality of conservative ideas and policy proposals. But it also depends on the quality of conservative politics. To put ideas into action, you have to win elections, or as Reagan adviser Lyn Nofziger used to say, "Losers don't legislate."
Here are four suggestions for conservative politics in the years ahead. They aren't "silver bullets," or magic methods that guarantee victory. They aren't particularly original, either: rather, they are common sense among the people who actually go out and win elections. But common sense was sometimes in short supply during the 2012 campaign, so it's useful to reflect on such points.
1. You need good politicians, that is, skillful people who can appeal to general-election voters. The best example, of course, is Ronald Reagan. He had a way of getting people to like him.
The 2012 GOP finalists were not in that league. Gingrich was widely disliked before he even started running for president. Santorum could be very good, but he also took too many day trips to Crazytown. Just before the Michigan primary -- where 30 percent of Republican voters were Catholic, he said that JFK's famous speech on church and state made him want to "throw up." He lost his co-religionists to Romney. And as for Romney ... well, nobody's favorite Gilligan's Island character was Thurston Howell III.
The key here is understanding the difference between applause lines that conservatives enjoy, and the things that appeal to the general public -- which may not be the same.
2. Do not do dumb stuff. By "dumb stuff," I mean fights that you can't win and that will lead to loss of public support. The Gingrich speakership provided some prominent examples of dumb stuff. As for today, three items come to mind:
- Defaulting on the federal debt
- Shutting down large portions of the government
- Trying to impeach President Obama.