The Republican Party can remain a Ronald Reagan historical society, or it can try to endure as a force in national politics. But it can’t do both. The choice matters greatly, for there is no guarantee that the GOP will retain its ability to win national elections or that conservatism has a future as a national governing philosophy. …

During Obama’s first term, defenders of the traditional GOP — tea party leaders, conservative PACs, right-wing blogs, radio talk-show hosts and the candidates they inspired and supported — generated enormous excitement and emphasized the party’s roots in fiscal conservatism. However, together with veterans of the Reagan years, they also popularized more strident language (vilifying same-sex marriage and labeling the president a “socialist”) and inflexible commitments (balance the budget in 10 years, or how about five!), making it tougher for even skilled candidates to win outside of staunchly conservative states.

Fortunately, not all Republicans are trapped in a time warp. On the other side of this battle within conservatism is a generation of leaders who emerged decades after Reagan left office: Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez. …

And while leadership must first be sober and defend conservative principles, it must also be relatable. Conservatives have come to deplore the role of personality in politics, scoffing at celebrity candidates. This is deeply misguided. Of course, we don’t want blank-slate politicians, but we do need standard-bearers who can instigate a conservative revival. Policy without a politician is a dissertation. Conservatism without a candidate of character, charm and intelligence is reduced to a debating society.