Pragmatism is also likely to be the driving force behind a softened stand on immigration reform, given the drubbing the GOP suffered among Hispanic and Asian voters last fall. And while Republicans will have a chance to flog the need for spending cuts in new fiscal fights in March, that won’t be a cure-all for their image, especially since President Obama and Democrats will get partial credit for any deal. The upshot, looking ahead: The party’s antitax brand is getting muddied and it is saddled with the perception that it is obstructionist and too conservative.

What’s the answer? One option would be to become the party of better government — not big or small government, but government that’s more efficient, more productive, and more focused on specific goals. The idea would be to position the party as an affirmative, dynamic, reformist, solutions-oriented force.

It wouldn’t be an overnight fix, and Obama and Democrats would surely argue that, Solyndra notwithstanding, they have been good stewards of government. But the party hasn’t made a thematic push on this front since the Clinton-Gore Reinventing Government initiative in 1993.

Commentary magazine has assembled a long list of suggestions about the future of conservatism from “53 leading American thinkers and writers.” Many of them advise conservatives to stand their ground on cultural and economic issues, and wait for Democrats to stumble or for Americans to see the light. But some recommend courses that fit squarely into the category of redefining and improving both the GOP and the federal government.