As Republicans regroup from electoral disaster, some -- including a rising star in the Senate -- insist conservatism was not to blame.
Why did Republicans lose the 2012 election? Ask Ted Cruz, the newly elected Republican senator from Texas.
"Do you want to know why Barack Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote?" Cruz asked a Washington hotel ballroom filled with conservative activists belonging to a group called the American Principles Project on Thursday night. "The tone on immigration contributed. But I think far more important was 47 percent."
The room was quiet -- not a fork clinked on a plate of overcooked steak drenched in melted brie as Cruz, a diminutive figure with slicked-down, side-parted black hair and the vocal cadence of a Texas country preacher, hastened to explain that he wasn't blaming Mitt Romney.
"I think Mitt Romney's a good man, a man of character, a man who ran a hard, disciplined campaign," he said. "But Republicans nationally, the story we conveyed, was 47 percent are stuck in a static world. We don't have to worry about them is what that clip famously said."
Cruz continued: "I cannot think of an idea more antithetical to the American principles this country was founded on."
It is a funny time to be Ted Cruz, a Tea Party hero and 41-year-old Cuban-American up-and-comer. He defeated an establishment Republican in a brutal Texas primary in what would prove to be conservatives' rare bright spot of 2012. Now Mr. Tea Party has come to Washington only to find his party in the dumps, demoralized and groping for answers. He is a rising star in a firmament whose lights have dimmed.
The debate within the Grand Old Party has begun to take shape along familiar lines. Some call on the party to moderate its positions; others insist it only needs to articulate them more forcefully. Then there are those who darkly foresee the day the American people, having chosen the path of disaster, get their comeuppance.
"Oh yes, we are all very sad," a silver-haired business lobbyist named Michael Maibach said when I asked him how Republicans were coping. "Some of us have turned to drugs; others are in therapy."
But Maibach turned serious as he contemplated the second term afforded Obama, a man whose "hero is Saul Alinsky," who was "raised in two former colonies and never had a continental experience." The fact that he was reelected, Maibach said, was a sign of a country whose character was in decline, where responsibility had fallen out of favor.
"I'm a Christian. There's always hope," he said. But what he'd learned from the election, he said, was that for Americans to grasp the threat, "obviously, things will have to get worse." Just as a series of mediocre presidents failed to prevent the Civil War, he said, "we've just had our election of 1856."