Perhaps the place to begin is to recognise the reasons why the current right-wing culture appeals to many Americans. It is a culture which emphasises self-reliance, industry, limited government and appeals to God and to patriotism. It has a long pedigree within American history.
It is set against a left-wing culture which, in contrast, wishes to tax the productive in order to expand a provider state and which regards the American tradition more negatively as being a history of oppression and injustice.
Given that polarisation you can understand why it's difficult to shift rank and file conservatives from the way right-wing politics is currently understood. There seems to be a good side and a bad side, and so the rank and file will cling to their allegiance to the good side.
But here we are in 2012 and the right has been defeated not just in terms of finances or candidates but demographically. The left-wing constituency has grown to the point that the right is facing a difficult challenge to win elections. So it's time for some soul searching.
The problem it seems to me is this: the underlying philosophy of the right is still a liberal one. It assumes that the good is in the freedom to be self-made, particularly in the market, rather than in the experience of higher goods that we ourselves do not make.
If you believe that the good is in your freedom as an individual to be self-made, then who will you most admire? Perhaps those who succeed in a profession or those who seek opportunities to improve their life circumstances through immigration.
Ronald Reagan is a significant figure on the American right. In my last post I quoted part of his farewell speech in which he said:
I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it and see it still...
It's not just some quirk of Ronald Reagan that he chose to say this. It expresses key parts of a right-liberal philosophy: the free market, an identification with those who immigrate to make themselves, an invocation of God, a positive view of society.
What the Reagan quote demonstrates is that the response to the Republican electoral defeat shouldn't be to get to a purer form of a right-liberal philosophy. A pure right-liberalism leads to open borders, which then shifts society decisively to the left.
The change has to be in the understanding of what matters. It is not just being self-made which matters. There is a good too in carrying through virtuously with what we were made to be: husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, and members of traditional communities connected by ties of history, kinship, language and culture.