If you call yourself a Republican, a conservative or fall anywhere right-of-center on the political spectrum, you're almost assuredly left with one definitive conclusion about the Nov. 4 elections: That did not go well.
In the sense that the Republican Party's primary goal is to elect Republicans, it's undeniable that the party failed rather spectacularly in its mission. Barack Obama will soon be ensconced in the Oval Office and Speaker Nancy Pelosi will still bang the gavel in the House. What's more, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could be looking at a filibuster-proof majority if Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) both fall in races still as of yet undecided.
So how did the party that "the architect" Karl Rove blueprinted to become a sustaining majority fall so flat and do it so quickly?
It's rather simple, actually. It completely forgot who it was and what it was sent to Washington to do.
The Republicans spent money like a college student with Daddy's credit card after an all-night Bud Light bender. They curtailed the First Amendment with the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance "reform" bill. The allegedly "arch-conservative" George W. Bush reached out to Ted Kennedy to co-author the grievous No Child Left Behind Act. Our already unsustainable commitment to entitlement spending was further expanded with Medicare Part D.
And then the bailouts cometh. Bear Stearns. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The U.S. government assumed 80 percent ownership in insurance giant AIG with an $85 billion bailout, ostensibly making the United States the world's largest insurance company.
And now, the big three auto makers have slinked their way to Capitol Hill to beg and plead for their share of the billions and billions of taxpayer dollars that we're handing out like it's free poster day at the ballpark.
In 2000, George W. Bush promised conservatism, albeit a new stripe that he termed "compassionate conservatism." What he didn't tell us was that "compassionate" was apparently synonymous with "Gucci" in the sense that it's overpriced and unnecessary when the model from Sears works just as well at a fraction of the cost.
The Republicans now are like travelers without a compass, surgeons without scalpels, and teenagers without cell phones. They're lost; adrift in a sea of political verbosity where words like "change," "hope" and "yes, we can" are confused for substantive promise instead of being recognized as vapid sloganeering.
So how does the Grand Old Party find its way back to being, well, Grand?
A good first step might be to decide to stand for something more than just a lukewarm version of what the Democrats are offering. In this sense, there's considerable upside in John McCain's loss to Barack Obama.
What was once thought to be McCain's biggest strength in an election year set up for the Democrats to spike – his "maverick" reputation and noted propensity to "reach across the aisle" – would surely have torn the Republican Party further asunder.
This is, after all, the same John McCain who gave us McCain-Feingold, and proposed two other abominations: the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill that amounted to little more than amnesty and the McCain-Lieberman bill that embraced the unproven notion of man-made global warming to the detriment of the competitiveness of American industry.
Right now, if the Democrats proposed a bill to burn down the Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, the Republicans would compromise and agree to phase it in over 5 years. Is there any doubt this would have been the paradigm under John McCain?
Would it have been easier to ply John McCain than Barack Obama to embrace conservative solutions to the myriad problems our nation now faces? Of course. But history argues that John McCain does only what John McCain wants to do, and to Hell with those who think otherwise.
After the confusing whirlwind of George W. Bush that has left conservatives exceptionally befuddled, four years of John McCain would certainly have sent those winds of confusion turning faster.
In the inaugural edition of National Review – the preeminent journal of conservative thought – William F. Buckley, founder and father of the modern conservative movement, penned an opus entitled "Standing athwart history, yelling Stop." His message applies as much today as it did back in 1955.
And perhaps holding the line as the minority party is where the GOP is at its best.
For better of worse, it's the position the party will be in until the American people will again trust them to say what they mean and then to do what they say.