The organization that Cantor launched (the National Council for America) never got off the ground despite the hype. Republicans won back control of Congress simply by running against an unpopular president, not by offering a set of solutions to fix the country's struggling economy. Despite being House majority leader, Cantor lost his primary to an obscure opponent—in part because he overestimated the political reward of pitching lofty reforms and ignored the day-to-day dissatisfaction from his own constituents. In his second presidential campaign, Romney struggled to lock up the nomination against a deeply conservative field and was unable to capitalize on Obama's mediocre approval ratings.
Other Republicans have talked in high-minded fashion about selling conservative reforms to GOP voters, but found there wasn't much political benefit in doing so. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie became famous for his tough talk against wasteful government and teachers unions in his first term, but has all but abandoned advocating new ideas since campaigning for reelection. Lately, the famously outspoken governor has avoided policy questions on immigration (despite traveling in Mexico!) and on the Senate report on the CIA's interrogation techniques. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has gotten little political traction promoting reforms on health care, energy, education, and national security, and he's careful to frame his ideas in opposition to Obama. Once a supporter of the Common Core educational standards that Jeb Bush champions, Jindal now compares them to Soviet central planning.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a Jeb Bush acolyte who is mulling a presidential campaign of his own, learned firsthand the political risk in embracing change. By championing comprehensive immigration reform, Rubio alienated much of the conservative base and got sidetracked from other issues that could also broaden the party's appeal. Bush is an equally enthusiastic proponent of immigration reform, but unlike Rubio, he plans to continue pushing it in a GOP primary. Rubio responded this year by delivering a series of speeches centered on economic opportunity, but now Bush's planned candidacy puts a crimp in his path to the nomination.
Candidates want to be seen as having a detailed blueprint on how to get the country back on track, but it's those very details that lead to unintended consequences. Republican officials confidently promoted comprehensive immigration reform as a surefire way to improve the party's standing with Hispanics, but blowback from the base and resistance from the public tempered the enthusiasm. The political benefits of courting Hispanics was offset by the risk of alienating the GOP's base of working-class whites.
Education reform is a rare issue that unites elements of the Democratic and Republican parties, but the details of improving accountability spark intense opposition. Some conservatives oppose any top-down reforms emanating from Washington, while some liberals resist a one-size-fits-all system hamstringing teacher creativity. Not to mention that the sprawling educational bureaucracy, the target of many reforms, is a reliable source of employment.