South Caroline Governor Mark Sanford, writing in Politico, pretty accurately assesses both the problems currently facing the GOP as well as the solutions.
First, why we lost (emphasis mine):
Our party took nothing short of a shellacking nationally. Some on the left will say our electoral losses are a repudiation of our principles of lower taxes, smaller government and individual liberty. But Election Day was not a rejection of those principles — in fact, cutting taxes and spending were important tenets of Barack Obama’s campaign.
Instead, voters rejected the fact that while Republicans have campaigned on the conservative themes of lower taxes, less government and more freedom, they have consistently failed to govern that way. Americans didn’t turn away from conservatism, they instead turned away from many who faked it.
This, as they say, hits the nail right on the head. As I’ve said before, it wasn’t our principles that were reject but rather politicians who failed to adhere to those principles. The public just doesn’t trust the GOP to do what it says anymore.
Sanford proposes three steps to winning back the electorate. Allow me to focus on the second (again, emphasis mine):
Second, our loyalties need to be to ideas, not to individuals. Ted Stevens in many ways personified the opposite of what the GOP is supposed to be about, reveling in his ability to secure pork and turning a blind eye to ethical lapses.
There needs to be a high standard for our franchisees. In other words, I believe Republicans and conservatives must agree on our core principles. St. Augustine called for ‘unity in the essentials, diversity in the nonessentials, and charity in all things,’ and while I believe there should always be a big GOP tent, there must also be a shared agreement on the essentials — including expanding liberty, encouraging entrepreneurship and limiting the reach of government in people’s everyday lives.
In this regard, the tent cannot be so big as to include political franchisees who don’t act on the core tenets of conservatism — and as a consequence harm the brand and undermine others’ work on it.
There really is only one political party in Washington: the incumbents. The GOP needs to stop shying away from primary battles where staunch conservatives challenge entrenched, liberal Republicans. The party needs to embrace the primary process and use it to cultivate a Republican Party that actually adheres to core principles.