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Michael Steele sounds clownish, and merits some mockery, but he isn't entirely wrong: Symbolism matters in politics, and there are almost certainly some votes to be gained for the GOP simply by easing the party's optics and rhetoric in a more youth-oriented, multicultural, self-aware direction. (As Mike Huckabee has demonstrated, just being less crabby and more self-deprecating can make a difference in how the media covers you.) But the basic dynamic that Daniel Larison identifies is still the most important one: Policy choices matter most, and for a losing political party whose current raft of policy proposals are deeply unpopular, better communication strategies and candidate recruitment only make sense as a supplement to a message adjustment, not as a substitute for it.

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Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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