In the wake of presidential candidate Mitt Romney's loss in November, conservatives and Republicans have been soul-searching, discussing the need to change tactics and positions on issues like illegal immigration and gay marriage. A Commentary Magazine symposium entitled, "What is the future of conservatism in the wake of the 2012 election?" recently brought together 53 writers and thinkers to voice their opinions on the question. Political diagnoses — offered by individuals ranging from New York Times columnist David Brooks to George W. Bush's former deputy chief of staff Karl Rove — included suggestions for staying the course, shifting on social issues and defining the conservative message. Full opinions from the symposium are available for purchase on commentarymagazine.com.
Some conservatives relish living in a pessimistic world, "describing the inevitable national glide down the path to perdition in gruesome detail," Elliott Abrams, a deputy national security advisor in the George W. Bush administration, wrote. Instead, conservatives should take advice from Ronald Reagan and realize that good cheer is the key ingredient for future success.
Conservatives should work to replace the "covetous, all-against-all social-democratic wisdom" with an optimistic, conservative vision, American Enterprise Institute President Arthur C. Brooks suggested. Artur Davis, a former Democratic member of Congress who spoke at the 2012 Republican Convention, agreed, saying conservatism "needs to rekindle the aspirations of Americans" who aren't winning, and who aren't building.
>> Former Representative Artur Davis addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012.
Conservatives will win in the future if they maintain their identity, stick to their principles and invite critics to compare conservative states like North Dakota and Texas to other states, writer Charlotte Allen suggested.
A revival of conservatism's two major traditions — conservative reform and promoting healthy mediating institutions — will help the country, Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson wrote. In terms of conservative reforms, Gerson said the movement that humanely transformed welfare and reduced crime rates in troubled cities needs to lead in improving public education college attendance and completion, job training and health care access. To promote healthy mediating institutions, Gerson said conservatives should have the goal to "creatively strengthen value-shaping institutions — civic groups, religious charities and families — without letting government dominate or corrupt them."
>> House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, left, and Rep. Rick Lazio, R-N.Y., look over a chart on homelessness during a meeting on Thursday, Feb. 2, 1995 on Capitol Hill in Washington, with Neighborhood Leadership task force on grassroots alternatives for Public Policy. Gingrich met with the group seeking advice on welfare reform and other poverty issues.
Reality is conservative, author Roger Kimball said, and eventually people will begin to see that to "'spread the wealth around' does not equalize but destroys prosperity."
The "dire fiscal plight" of the federal government and the trajectory of entitlement programs give Republicans more leverage in politics than their House of Representatives majority alone, The Washington Post's Michael Barone wrote. When Americans see the effects of redistributive policies — effects that, under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, included recession, strikes, high unemployment and businesses being unwilling to hire new workers — conservatism may have greater appeal, Barone said.
David Frum of The Daily Beast indicated that the president's reelection portends more expensive federal government, which implies more taxes and therefore generates more resistance. "That resistance will be the basis for the conservative coalition of tomorrow," Frum wrote. While Frum doesn't believe that coalition would be able to undo everything President Obama has done, he said they will be able to "fight the good fight" for private enterprise and free markets.
>> Seated at his White House desk, President Franklin D. Roosevelt tells the people of his plan to call in representatives of industry and labor for conferences in an effort to obtain a truce from strikes and industrial disorder until already-established means of settling disputes have been tried, Sept. 30, 1934 in Washington.
Patience will prove to help conservatism win in the end, president of Hillsdale College Larry P. Arnn wrote, and conservatives should look at Winston Churchill and take heart.
"What, for example did Churchill do?" Arnn asked. "He lived for long years in the wilderness. He faced the overwhelming opposition of academic and elite opinion, shot through with ideology that made them blind to Hitler and his ilk and devalued the freedoms of their country. He, like us, faced a hostile press . . . then came the sufficient opportunity: Events proved him right."
The long-term battle, according to Washington Post senior editor Philip Klein, will come when Americans face a combination of inflation, high interest rates and economic stagnation. "Liberalism is ill-equipped to respond to such a crisis, because the promotion of a generous welfare state is its central purpose," Klein wrote. "Conservatism, once more, will emerge to fill the vacuum of ideas."
>> British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, right, poses with Winston Churchill in this undated photo.
There are many lessons conservatives should take from the November election, Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby wrote, "but a need to radically overhaul the right isn't one of them." American conservatism didn't arise from a yearning to conform to public opinion, but rather to defend constitutional liberty, economic opportunity and human dignity aided by limited government, he said.
Talk of a permanently changed electorate is misleading, since the American electorate is an ever-moving thing, Wilfred McClay of the University of Tennessee said. Therefore, he encouraged Republicans to focus on articulating "higher and better and more unifying principles," rather than pandering.
Instead of sniping about what went wrong in the last election, Republicans should stop whining and reaffirm their first principles, therefore living up to Churchill's advice to "deserve victory," McClay concluded.
>> In Fairfax County, Virginia, a voter holds their voting permit and ID card at the Washington Mill Elementary School near Mount Vernon, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012
According to former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, conservatives should remember that foreign policy and domestic prosperity are inextricably linked, and that conservatives prosper politically when the ideology encompasses traditionalist, free-market and national security conservatives.
Writer Rod Dreher argued for a larger tent, saying that conservatives ought to think about applying conservative principles in a changing world, and should develop a conservatism that is "flexible and open and confident enough to permit, indeed welcome and to learn from dissent within the broad conservative tradition."
>> John Bolton, US Ambassador to United Nations speaks to reporters as he arrives to a Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters in this Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2006 file photo.
Republicans and conservatives must attract new voters, executive director of Christians United for Israel David Brog, former senior White House lawyer and domestic policy advisor Jay Lefkowitz and Wall Street Journal editorial board member Jason Riley agreed. This effort would include attracting Hispanic voters by making it clear that the conservative party is a party of all classes and building a message that appeals to new voters, Brog wrote.
While a conservative immigration policy should include measures to tighten borders and perhaps require national identification cards like other nations do, conservative should also take steps to ensure that "millions of undocumented aliens who are an essential part of our economy can fully partake in the fruits of our nation," Lefkowitz agreed.
History suggests that Latinos are swing voters who are open to the GOP's message, Riley wrote, and therefore conservatives should try viewing Hispanics as an opportunity to expand the GOP brand rather than an obstacle to winning office.
"Illegal immigration to the United States does not reflect poor character," Riley wrote. "It results from the simple fact that the supply of visas made available to countries such as Mexico doesn't come close to matching the demand. Conservatives who want to reduce illegal entries in a humane way that doesn't hurt our economy or drive Latino voters into the arms of the Democratic Party might try advocating reforms that correct this imbalance."
>> Republican presidential hopeful former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, delivers his remarks at the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, Sunday, July 22, 2007, in Washington.
While the Democratic Party would rather see American life dramatically altered than see governing institutions reformed, conservatives will need to clarify an alternative by articulating an agenda to reform the structure of government for the sake of preserving the structure of American society, wrote Yuval Levin, the Hertog fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
Conservatives should use the next four years as a time to fill in the policy agenda and arsenal of arguments "in favor of the brand of reforms that will prove essential in the long run," Levin concluded.
Conservatives must "shake enough of our reflexive aversion to government to get serious about reforming government," former Democratic congressman Artur Davis said.
Arguing against what he calls the "Freedom wing" of the Republican Party, New York Times columnist David Brooks said Republicans should also make room for "the Rhino Wing." Under his definition, the Rhino Wing would "flow directly from the three springs of American conservatism and draw political inspiration from its early-American embodiments, the Whig Party and the early Republican Party," embracing any government program that stokes ambition, energy and industriousness, being tolerant on social issues and cherishing prudence, moderation and balance.
Conservatives should stop calling people "RINOs" and instead embrace an intellectual base replenished by fresh, creative discussion and argument, American Conservative contributor Rod Dreher wrote.
Conservatives should "reacquaint themselves with the true sprit of conservatism, which is reform-minded, empirical, anti-utopian and somewhat modest in its expectations," Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, concluded. "Winsomeness goes a long way in politics."
>> This photo from Saturday, Jan. 29, 2011, shows a display mounted by a group from south-central Kansas at a statewide Republican convention in Topeka, Kan. RINO stands for "Republican In Name Only," a term for GOP moderates, and the display included information on legislators' voting records.
Hillsdale College professor Paul A. Rahe said that conservatism still lacks a standard-bearer, and that Mitt Romney won because he was the last man standing who had not thoroughly "blotted his copybook." It is time now, Rahe said, for a younger, "more principles generation to step forward" and indict the entitlement state.
The conservative movement has grown prudish, crotchety, conspiratorial, retrograde and insipid, Wall Street Journal writer Bret Stephens said, and the future of the movement depends at least in part on producing many more Ronald Reagans rather than Todd Akins.
Daily Beast columnist David Frum predicted that the coming new Republican coalition will be "culturally modern, economically inclusive and environmentally responsible, as well as "younger, better educated and more secular than the coalition that lost in 2012." That sort of coalition — which must develop in the conservative revival that will come following the "Obama years," will leave the country better than it found it, he said.
>> Ladarius Beal stands with social studies teacher Gwen Dunbar at Julian High School on Chicago's South Side, Monday, March 10, 2008. As a young conservative Republican, Dunbar says Beal is often at the center of heated debates with his classmates, many of them supporters of presidential candidate Barack Obama.
As long as conservatism holds to and actively promotes economic freedom — meaning people are free to decide what to produce, consume, buy and sell, while working under predictable government policy based on the rule of law — conservatism will have a bright future in the United States, Stanford University economics professor John B. Taylor wrote.
"Internally, many conservatives are forgetting or not trying hard enough o demonstrate the benefits of economic freedom, not only for the middle class, but especially for the poor and disadvantaged," Taylor continued. "Adherence to the principles of economic freedom is compassionate by definition because it is the surest way to improve the lot of all Americans."
Conventional public wisdom made two arguments during this past election, AEI's Arthur C. Brooks wrote. These arguments were that free enterprise is "fundamentally unfair," and that an "entitlement state is morally acceptable and economically sustainable." In battling these two trains of thought, Brooks said, conservatives should not "change our values and get with the times," but rather change conventional wisdom.
Matthew Continetti, editor-in-chief of the Washington Free Beacon, wrote that the Obama administration's "Life of Julia" slideshow depicted a "clear, specific and honest vision of the relation between the citizen and her state in a liberal future," but emphasized gaps like family, friends, and neighbors. It is those gaps, Continetti said, that conservatives need to address as they work to strengthen the moral and material basis of families, communities, churches, police and soldiers.
For conservatism, the family breakdown is a profound challenge, Economics 21 policy advisor Reihan Salam wrote, because free societies depend on a citizenry that has the capacity — "intellectually, morally and economically — to take on the task of enriching the life we share in common. These capacities are formed not in schools, but rather in families." The evaporation of stable families, therefore strikes at the foundation of the associational life, Salam continued.
The challenge for conservatives in the future will be to "advance family-friendly policies without being unpleasantly moralistic or sectarian about it," the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto said.
The business of conservatives in the coming years will be to "restrain democracy to what is good, not abstractly, but to what is the common good of a democracy," Harvard University professor Harvey Mansfield said.
Left to its own devices, democracy can exaggerate itself, going too far, and bringing trouble on itself, Mansfield wrote. "In demanding equality, it tries to level differences, claiming to raise the low but often actually lowering the high," he said. Instead, conservatives are needed to "stand for greatness against democratic mediocrity," persuading others to see why it is necessary to admire "the best among us and to restrain the extension of equality."
Wilfred McClay of the University of Tennessee said that Republicans should focus on articulating "higher and better and more unifying principles," including growth, opportunity, sensible restraints on taxes and spending, a strong dollar, economic and religious freedom, military strength, patriotism, individual empowerment and responsibility, the dignity of work and the need for educational reforms.
In the wake of the 2012 election, some argued that Republicans needed to take a closer look at their stance on social issues, while screenwriter Roger Simon and former senior White House lawyer and domestic policy advisor Jay Lefkowitz indicate that the entire agenda should be rethought.
"Take the social issues entirely off the table," Simon wrote. "They are not the province of government and cannot, in the real world, be legislated. And they, more than anything, provide a cudgel fro bludgeoning conservatives and Republicans in perpetuity in the eyes of women and young people."
Taking social issues off the table would not be a surrender, Simon said, because "by removing their social goals from the political sphere as much as possible, (conservatives) are more likely to achieve them in the society itself. It's human nature."
Lefkowitz agreed, saying that conservatives should not abdicate their moral voices on issues of life, death and personal responsibility, but should wage those battles "in a conservative way, using private institutions and the power of persuasion rather than the coercive powers of the state."
The name most frequently mentioned throughout the 53 discussions was that of Ronald Reagan — a man all who mentioned him agreed conservatives should try to emulate.
"The next GOP candidate should learn from Reagan and make his or hers the voice of an articulate and coherent conservative ideology," former deputy secretary of Health and Human Services Tevi Troy wrote. "The conservatism the candidate expresses also needs to be Reaganesque in nature: inclusive, confident, optimistic and forward-looking."
President Reagan gave Americans faith in themselves, and offered a vision of conservatism that was optimistic but not pandering, author Linda Chavez said.
Rather than practicing the "apocalyptic and incendiary rhetoric, anger, impatience and revolutionary zeal" of politicians like Newt Gingrich, conservatives should try to recapture "some of the grace, generosity of sprit and principled politics of America's 40th president," wrote Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
Reagan was neither "a scold nor a prig," but was rather a "pragmatic idealist who knew how to combine humor with moral purpose" who could change his mind "without betraying his convictions, Wall Street Journal deputy editorial page editor Bret Stephens wrote. He has become the patron saint of the conservative movement, "and rightly so."
>> Governor Ronald Reagan sits for an interview at the Hotel Utah on April 8, 1976.