SANFORD WANTS A SMALLER GOP…. The latest “what do we do now?” piece for the Republican Party comes from South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R), who outlines his approach in a piece for the Politico today.

There’s some predictable prescriptions — Republicans should, apparently, try sticking to their principles — but this one jumped out at me.

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.

Now, I think I know what Sanford means here, and his point is not, on its face, ridiculous. Political parties have to stand for at least some core tenets, and it makes sense for parties to worry about diluting a party brand to the point that the label becomes meaningless.

There is, however, a context that Sanford seems oblivious to. Right now, fewer Americans identify with the Republican Party than at any point in years. The party has lost the White House; it’s a minority in both chambers in Congress by wide margins; and it’s a minority among the nation’s governorships. Voters say they agree with the Democratic Party on just about every issue under the sun.

Sanford considers this landscape and suggests what Republicans really need to do is make the party even smaller.

If, in context, that means purging, say, convicted felons from the party ranks, it would clearly be sensible. But I don’t think that’s what Sanford means. If I understand his piece correctly, Sanford wants to see a Republican Party that shed itself of factions that fall short of the “core tenets of conservatism” — as defined, presumably, by Mark Sanford — so as to let voters know exactly what they’d get by way of the party label. What the GOP needs now, in other words, is fewer people.

If you say so, gov.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.