"But a lot of conservatives have been telling themselves that Republicans lost the election because they were insufficiently committed to conservative orthodoxy: that if they had just eschewed pork and prescription-drug benefits, the voters would have been kinder to them. It is a comforting theory with almost no basis in fact." - Ramesh Ponnuru
Ramesh writes an interesting article on Fred, most of which I agree with. I might get back to it later, but I wanted to touch on this a little bit, becuase I am one of the conservatives who believes this, at least to the extent that the GOP could have mitigated some of the damage of last year's election and in any case would be in much better shape than they are right now. Not necessarily because the libertarian hordes would tip the balance over the GOP, but a series of more subtle reasons.
First of all, political parties are expected to represent certain established issues and groups of people. They are charged to defend those interests in the political process, they are charged to advocate for their issues in the conversation at large. But, the attention of the public square is a finite thing, and any one political party will only have a fraction of that even. Whatever constituencies the GOP represents, pro-lifers, tax cutters, gun owners, they were all being crowded out because, in the public mind, the Republican Congress was associated with Jack Abramoff and the Bridge To Nowhere.
Second, I think we underestimate the degree to which the political fates are determined by issues of character and personality rather than policy. You would think it wouldn't be the case in a society as celebrity-obsessed as ours, but nonetheless that's the way it seems to me. Especially in a comment such as Ramesh's above. In various circumstances, you can vote for a political figure that you disagree with, or that you don't like. But it is very difficult to support someone you have contempt for. And the GOP's sins of corruption and mismanagement of the public purse has earned them a substantial measure of contempt that will be very difficult to erase.
Finally, there's a third reason that's sort of halfway between the first two. Politics is not just determined by the erstwhile personal relationship between the politicians and the voters, but also by the personal relationships among the voters themselves. Every political movement depends on the people at the grass roots level to advocate for it. And not necessarily in an organized way either, but also between friends over beer or as acquaintances sharing a bus ride. An accountant in Wichita might feel in his gut that the Republican party is the best hope for America, but if the political class is Washington is completely unaccountable, he won't be able to communicate that to his neighbor, and the other team wins by default.