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Tactics — not views — doomed Romney

At an electinight party Baltimore supporters celebrate after voters passed referendum approving same-sex marriage state.  |  Patrick Semansky~AP

At an election night party in Baltimore, supporters celebrate after voters passed a referendum approving same-sex marriage in the state. | Patrick Semansky~AP

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Updated: December 10, 2012 6:22AM

What went wrong and what can be done about it? Those are questions agonizing Republicans after President Barack Obama’s re-election and the failure of the GOP to pick up seats — it lost a couple — in the U.S. Senate in an election season that was ripe for Republican gains.

For starters, it’s worth saying what is not wrong: The conservative principles of individual liberty and responsibility, limited government, rational and low tax policies, reasonable but not burdensome regulation, rule of law, protection of property rights and defense of free markets. These essential ideas at the foundation of the American success story resonated with 58 million voters, only 2 percentage points less than Obama’s total. They did not cause the defeat of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. He lost for tactical and strategic reasons.

Tactically, Romney was forced to win the nomination in a long, bitter primary fight that damaged him and the GOP. The Obama camp and its allies spent tens of millions of dollars on ads in swing states in a summer of hate that defined Romney as a heartless corporate fat cat. Romney never overcame that.

The strategic cause of Romney’s defeat was his poor showing with America’s changing demographics. The nation is becoming less white, and he lost big with Latinos, Asian Americans and African Americans as well as with women and young voters.

Latinos are of a particular concern as they are the fastest-growing minority group. Romney’s harsh immigration rhetoric during the primaries dug him into a deep hole.

Post-election thinking is that one way to help the GOP with this growing voting bloc is an embrace of immigration reform. That’s true, though Democrats will always up the ante with ever more liberal provisions that Republicans angered by illegal immigration will find hard to swallow. While they must back reasonable reform, another productive avenue for Republicans will be vigorous outreach, participation and involvement with the legal immigrant community, where many folks establish their own businesses and will find GOP business-friendly ideas attractive.

Similarly, Republicans must venture onto college campuses, however hostile the faculties there are to conservative ideas. Republicans, conservatives and business organizations must promote their views on campus and create arenas where students can learn about and express free-market philosophy.

Social issues, especially abortion and contraception, remain vital to women. It’s one thing to be pro-life, but quite another to advance the toxic notion of “legitimate rape” or assert that a rape victim becoming pregnant is God’s will, as two failed GOP Senate candidates did. It’s one thing to advocate parental notification for abortion for minors, but quite another to push legislation ordering intrusive ultrasounds for women seeking abortions. It’s no wonder millions of women don’t feel welcome in the party, even if such extreme positions reflect the smallest minority in the GOP.

Opposition to gay marriage often is viewed by moderates not in isolation but as a piece of a larger social conservative hostility to the realities of modern life. Victories for gay rights in balloting in four states Tuesday point to the future. Marriage in America may be in trouble, but it’s not because gays want to wed.

I would never suggest that social conservatives remain silent. But the path to a GOP White House depends on focused messaging to all Americans on the benefits of the nation’s founding political and economic principles.

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