Is the great Republican freakout an overreaction?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Before Mitt Romney even lost, I warned the GOP was “running on empty,” and the morning after, I said Republicans should “modernize, not moderate.”

This is all to say that I’ve been keenly aware the GOP and the conservative movement had structural problems for a while.

But now, some observers are worrying about a different problem: The GOP could alienate its base in an attempt to gain a new audience. What is more, the issues Republicans appear poised to cave on aren’t the ones that most animated voters. Ross Douthat, for example, writes,

“Even though immigration and (especially) same-sex marriage are issues where the Democrats are increasingly building an advantage, they aren’t the issues that were uppermost in most voters’ minds when they rejected Mitt Romney and the G.O.P. in 2012 – and yes, that goes for young voters and Hispanic voters as well as the public as the whole.”

I’m convinced the Republican Party has gotten stale and that the Reagan era has ended. And I believe soul-searching and introspection are generally healthy — and perhaps long overdue. But having said that, observers like Douthat are also wise to advise prudence and caution.

Let’s begin with what we know to be true. We know that Barack Obama beats John McCain and Mitt Romney. Now, we can take that information — add in demographic data and polling information — and extrapolate that Republicans are in deep trouble.

And maybe they are. On the other hand, is it fair to assume that Obama and Romney are representative of their respective ideologies? Obamaism, absent the charismatic cult of Obama, might not have been nearly as effective. Conservatism, with a better messenger, might have been much more appealing.

What if — instead of Obama versus Romney — the election had been, say, Dennis Kucinich versus Marco Rubio?  Would the liberal vision still have looked as compelling in contrast?

This is a question at least worth asking before we upset the apple cart.

Matt K. Lewis