The Litany of the Moderate Republican Political Dead includes Gerald Ford (lost to Carter), George Herbert Walker Bush (lost re-election to Clinton), Bob Dole (lost to Clinton), and John McCain (lost to Obama). In each case the party took the advice of those inside and outside who said they had a much better chance of winning without an "ideologue" (read: someone who is serious about ideas) on the ticket. Romney joins this list as only the most recent casualty of the crisis of values in the Republican Party.
Mid-campaign shifts of position, as we saw in Romney's general election campaign, are just symptoms of a deeper problem. The reason Republicans nominate moderates is that they don't have enough confidence in their own most deeply held beliefs—and this is not a technical problem; it is a moral problem.
Romney lost because he did two things that all technocratic pragmatists do: 1) He triangulated on fundamental moral issues and focused exclusively on what we might call "secular" issues: issues on which there is no fundamental disagreement among voters; and 2) He cast himself as a more capable administrator than his opponent.
To a moderate, an election is not about issues, it is about competence. An election is not about what the candidate thinks; it's about what he can do. Moderate pragmatists only want to talk about means, but they do not want to talk about ends. Democrats have the moral confidence to talk about both.
Republicans try to convince Americans that Republicans do agree with Americans; Democrats try to convince Americans that Americans should agree with Democrats.
There is no technocratic calculus by which a moral issue can be resolved, and so it must be minimized, if not ignored altogether.
There is one issue in which these contrasting emphases can both be seen at play. Both parties have been willing to fight openly over the health care issue. But what to the Democrats is a moral issue—an issue about social justice involving fundamental human rights—is to Republicans an economic issue—one about facts and figures and technical feasibility.
The problem with pragmatism is that it isn't very useful—at least not in the political world. With the one exception of Clinton (who stands in a separate Machiavellian category altogether), Democrats don't run pragmatists; they run ideologues—people with an explicit moral agenda. Just look at this year's party conventions: The Republicans talked about who Romney was and what he could do; the Democrats talked about abortion and same sex marriage. The Republican's hid their views on controversial moral issues and lost; the Democrats put them front and center and won.
The irony is that, if you look at polls on these issues, they still slightly favor traditional marriage and the pro-life position. There is no reason for Republicans to run from them and every reason for Democrats to fear invoking them. And yet they do it anyway.
The difference between the two parties is that there is a depth of moral commitment among Democratic leaders that is lacking among their Republican colleagues. The average Democratic activist will fight and die for nationalized health care, the "right" to abortion, and most of them now will spill blood over the "right" of gays to marry. Although Republicans will argue the economic feasibility of the nationalized health care, when asked about the right to life or traditional marriage you get qualifications a mile long.
Democrats go into battle with the intention to come back with their shield or on it. Republicans too often go into battle with their tails between their legs.
This was evidenced repeatedly throughout the campaign. While spokesmen for the Obama campaign championed the "pro-choice" position unapologetically, whenever a Romney spokesman was asked about the careless remarks of Todd Akin or Richard Mourdock—or on Romney's position on Roe v. Wade, they went into prevent defense. They dissimulated on the issue itself and gave all the reasons why Romney's stated position on abortion wouldn't make any practical difference. The "practical" result of this, of course, is that people begin to doubt your sincerity and question the depth of your convictions.
The obvious response on the abortion issue would have been to shoot right back and attack Obama's history of supporting partial birth abortion, a procedure in which a full-term baby is partially delivered and then, through an incision in the back of the head, has its brains sucked out. This is an easy and effective response for a person even moderately competent in basic moral discourse, but for the soulless Republican political operatives now deployed to defend their candidates, it is a form of articulation foreign to them.
Republicans have lost their moral voice. They have tried to occupy what they perceive to be the high ground of abstract economic competency, only to cede the much higher moral ground to their liberal adversaries. They have abandoned what Richard Weaver once called the "Office of Assertion," and have settled into the Seat of Sophistry.
Republicans either need to stand for what they claim to believe in or admit they don't believe in what they claim to stand for—things like the sanctity of life, the integrity of marriage, and larger moral well-being of Americans.
If they take the first course, they will remain a viable political party. If they take the second course, they will not only become politically irrelevant; they will have lost their political soul.