A second notable characteristic of conservative reaction to Tuesday’s election results is the iron conviction that Republican pols from Mitt Romney on down did a poor job of articulating why and how the unvarnished conservative creed of small government, “free enterprise,” cultural traditionalism, and militant “Americanism” is good for the country and every one of its citizens. It wasn’t the ideology that’s out of synch with the country: it was the message crafted from that ideology, and the incompetence (or perhaps lack of authenticity) of the messengers.

Here’s Erick Erickson, who was among the first on Election Night to warn conservatives not to pretend the election was “stolen:”

Since Ronald Reagan rose from the ashes of the Goldwater movement, Republicans have articulated a message of freedom and opportunity — a rugged individualism that says if you work hard you can be what you want and do what you want. But people forget.

In the last decade or so, Republicans began to assume everyone just naturally agreed. They stopped explaining. They stopped being evangelists. Worse, conservatism morphed into Republicanism and instead of being about ideas, both became about the acquisition of power for the sake of power. Republicans no longer articulated a core set of principles through policy, but policies designed solely to keep them in power. The party leaders and many of its candidates began to do the same — freedom became a platitude, not a policy.

During Barack Obama’s tenure, Republicans tried to blur every line, make every compromise, and often surrendered before a weapon was even pointed at them. They did not articulate a positive conservative vision, but a defensive position that Obama was bad and they were good with little to show for it. They cut deals that sold out their core to preserve their power. They do so even today.

Here are the Editors of National Review:

Blame for this debacle is widely shared. Mitt Romney made many mistakes in this campaign. Yet with the exception of his failure to press the case against Obamacare — a failure partly explained but not excused by his own record on health care — those mistakes reflected party-wide decisions. The party hasn’t kept up with the political technologies Democrats are using. More important, Republicans from the top to the bottom of the ticket did little to make the case that conservative policies would make the broad mass of the public better off. It wasn’t a theme of the convention in Tampa, for example, or a consistent theme in Republican ads.

Most of the post-election discussion, we can predict, will dwell on the predictable demographic divides of sex, race, and age. Most of this conversation will be unproductive. Until conservatives devise a domestic agenda, and a way to sell it, that links small-government principles to attractive results, they are going to have a hard time improving their standing with women, Latinos, white men, or young people.

As is indicated in that editorial, it seems important to conservatives to deny that Mitt Romney was the only or even the main problem. NRO’s Robert Costa suggests that the Romney camp itself was divided on whether and how to deliver the most robust conservative message possible:

A Romney adviser partly blames last night’s defeat on a weak message. “Turnout was the big problem, since we didn’t get all of McCain’s voters to the polls, but we really should have been talking more about Benghazi and Obamacare,” an adviser says, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Those are major issues and Romney rarely mentioned them in the final days.”

The adviser expects Stuart Stevens, Romney’s chief strategist, to bear the brunt of the blame, but not all of it. “There is a Boston clique that will stick together,” the adviser says. “But blaming Stuart and the other newcomers means blaming Romney, so they will be careful. They know Romney always gave Stuart his complete confidence.”

Beyond these voices, there’s a harsher faction of conservatives who simply think the Republican Party has failed to embrace conservatism at all, predictably led by the movement war horse Richard Viguerie:

[A]n assortment of conservative groups sent representatives to the National Press Club to vent their anger at the Republican Party “establishment.”

“The battle to retake the Republican Party begins today,” railed Richard Viguerie, a veteran of the conservative movement, who called on “the failed Republican leadership” to resign, and then named the leaders of the GOP in the House and Senate, as well as the head of the Republican National [Committee].

And here’s former Gingrich advisor Christian Whiton on the Fox web site yesterday:

In the end, the Republican establishment thought they had this election in the bag. They decided to play it safe with a moderate. They stuffed a candidate down the party’s throat who opportunistically had been on both sides of most issues and told people what he thought they wanted to hear, rather than what he believed.

Recovery begins with saying goodbye to this Beltway GOP establishment. No more Romneys. No more Bushes. No more McCains.

Now it should be obvious that a “struggle for the soul of the Republican Party” that’s between people calling for the existing leaders of the GOP to get back in touch with their inner Ronnie and people calling for new leaders who never lost touch with their inner Ronnie isn’t really a debate over the party’s ideology at all. The still point in the turning world of Republican politics these days is this: conservatism is never to blame, and the answer to every question is “more.”

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.