The conservative base is smaller than it has been in three decades, with its share falling to 35% while liberals edged up to 24%, a narrowing advantage further diminished by the fact that about a fifth of that conservative base consists of blacks and Latinos who still overwhelmingly voted for Obama. The Republican conservative base seems perilously close to shrinking to white southern evangelicals, senior white males, and upper income Protestants.

That Obama more or less maintained the 2008 foundation of his victory, with the exception of North Carolina and Indiana, is especially striking given the weak-kneed nature of the Obama recovery and the fact that close to half the country now views the president, a figure once ascribed near mythical powers, in an unfavorable vein. One unavoidable conclusion is that the country’s skepticism toward the last four years was outweighed by a marginally wider distrust of what Republican rule would look like. Another is that the electorate’s affinity for individual elements of the Republican agenda never coalesced into their approval of a broader GOP governing vision…

To be sure, a better crafted campaign would have filled in Romney’s policy goals more convincingly than the ritualistic invocation of five point plans and generic references to cutting regulation and producing more domestic energy. But that failure is not just a marketing flaw on the part of Romney’s ad men: it is a symptom of a modern conservatism that seems spent and resistant to innovation on some days, purely oppositional and reactive on other days. And the weightiest part of the recent conservative agenda, Paul Ryan’s budget plan, was barely mentioned and its details only intermittently defended. (The details of Ryan’s budget had their share of political pitfalls, but the scant attention to it by the Romney campaign surely contributed to the impression that the Republican wish list was being kept deliberately shadowy.)