Many conservatives are in a deep funk over the election results. But this gloom and doom is misguided. Going forward, conservatives have strong reasons to believe that the American people will hear their message in 2016 and beyond.
President Obama's electoral win has obscured the fact that his margin of victory was in reality very slim. The Wall Street Journal has pointed out this striking fact: Mitt Romney "would be headed for the White House if he'd persuaded fewer than 333,000 Americans to either change their minds or go to the polls."
Romney's low favorability ratings mark him as one of the weakest presidential candidates in modern history. Nevertheless, Republicans made major gains among crucial demographic groups in 2012, as Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center noted in an analysis of the presidential vote. Compared with 2008, the party was up among men (four points), whites (four), younger voters (six), white Catholics (seven) and Jews (nine).
At other levels of government, Republicans did surprisingly well. "The presidential election results looked a lot like 2008's," explains political analyst Michael Barone. "But the farther down the ballot you go, the more the results look like 2010's" -- a banner year for conservatives.
In 2012, Republicans kept their majority in the U.S. House, where Democrats failed to come close to making up the huge losses they sustained in 2010. But the GOP's most resounding success came at the state level. The party won every governor's seat up for re-election, and added North Carolina. Republicans now occupy the governor's mansion in 30 states, the largest majority for either party since 2000.
Americans' receptivity to the conservative message is likely to increase as the consequences of Obama's reckless policies become evident. In his first four years, the president racked up the four largest deficits since World War II. America's debt stands at $16 trillion and is swelling by $1 trillion a year.
So far, Obama has financed this largely through unsustainable government borrowing. Going forward, his proposed tax increases on "the rich" won't cover his ambitious spending plans.
According to the Wall Street Journal, all the higher tax revenue Obama seeks would raise a mere $82 billion a year at best. But last year's deficit was $1.1 trillion "and that's before Obamacare kicks in and the baby boom cohort keeps retiring." A large tax increase on the middle class is inevitable.
Americans' consternation will increase as they experience the onerous consequences of Obamacare, whose major impact will come in 2014 and beyond. The new health care regime will raise the cost of doing business, slow hiring, and drive many employers to cut employees to part-time status -- while transferring health care decisions from doctors and patients to unaccountable federal bureaucrats. All this will be deeply unpopular.
Fortunately, just as the American people are coming face-to-face with the consequences of Obama's policies, the Republican Party's "A Team" will be positioned to step up to articulate a powerful alternative vision.
These young leaders -- most of whom were too new to high public office to run for president in 2012 -- include Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker, Nikki Haley and, of course, Paul Ryan. All are likely to connect better with ordinary Americans than the wealthy, "empathy-challenged" Romney.
In making their case for reform, these new leaders will be able to draw on promising experiments in Republican-led state laboratories. These include public-pension reform in Wisconsin; education reform in Louisiana, Indiana and Arizona; and a new patient-centered Medicaid model in Florida, based on competition, choice and financial incentives to get preventive care.
Meanwhile, Democrat-controlled states will provide powerful counter-examples. California -- America's own Greece -- will continue to demonstrate that soaring taxes, bloated public pensions and suffocating regulation can drive out the middle class and force cities into bankruptcy.
But conservatives' greatest strength in coming years will be enduring principles for which they stand. These are not just policy options, but incontrovertible truths of human nature that transcend party, time and place.
These principles hold that human beings -- and liberty -- flourish best under limited government; that economic prosperity and innovation spring from free markets, and that strong families and a vibrant civil society are essential to instilling the virtues and "habits of the heart" on which self-government depends. In contrast, the liberal entitlement state stymies human ingenuity and fosters debilitating dependency.
America's history reveals a powerful capacity to return to and renew these principles, on which our nation was founded. We will do so again.
Katherine Kersten is a senior fellow at the Center of the American Experiment. The views expressed here are her own. She is at firstname.lastname@example.org.