Conservative ideas work. Numerous states are demonstrating that low taxes, right-to-work laws, school choice, energy development and other common-sense policies improve the lives of everyone. Conversely, progressive central planning has failed throughout history and is still failing today…

One lesson I learned in marketing is that, for consumers and voters, perception is reality.

November’s election results and exit polls suggest that a majority of Americans agree that government does too much yet still voted for more of it. The election taught conservatives that we can no longer entrust political parties to carry our message.

We must take our case to the people ourselves, and we must start where all good marketing starts: with research. Conservative policies have proved their worth time and time again. If we’re not communicating in a way that makes that clear, we are doing a disservice to our fellow citizens. We need to test the market and our message to communicate more effectively.

DeMint’s opinion piece represents a broader sentiment within the conservative movement, that its establishment leaders simply lack the ability to point a way out of the political wilderness.

The rise of taxman (or, more accurately, anti-taxman) Grover Norquist and the ongoing power of radio talker Rush Limbaugh affirm that the power center of the GOP increasingly rests outside of its elected leaders. (That shrinking of establishment power was never more evident than when Speaker John Boehner was unable to find enough votes for his “Plan B” that would have exempted all but those making $1 million or more from a tax increase.)…

The weakening of political parties is a long-term process — driven by the growth of the Internet and its capacity/influence as an organizing and fundraising tool. But, the fissure within the Republican party between its party leadership and its base (and those figures tied to the base) has accelerated that movement.

Fact No. 1 is to realize a political party isn’t a church nor a cult but a mechanism to get diverse people who share some things in common to work toward a common position of power that none could achieve on their own. Fact No. 2 is that unless you can convert your principles into actual policies, standing upon them does no one a favor. If you believe in your principles but can’t convert others, you are not an asset. If you antagonize them, you and your principles are a real liability, and perhaps you should shut the hell up.

Fact No. 2 is that because no coalition big enough to win power can ever be pure or completely united, and no pure wing or segment can be big enough to win or rule on its own, it is in everyone’s interest to cherish the mavericks. Each party needs members who vote with them sometimes. Conservatives dreamed of the day they could rid themselves of the Snowes, Lugars and Castles; that day has come, and they and their party are weaker than ever. Many conservatives would kill now to have those seats back.

Sometime soon, before the debt ceiling crisis writes a thrilling new chapter, Republicans should sit down together and try to agree on four things: to name the shared goals that they want to move forward; to decide what to do to in a practical manner (in the real world, not an imagined alternative); to find their best spokesmen, and have him (or her) speak for them all; and to remember exactly who their real enemies are — who, in the real world, are not themselves.

If you are conservative you are skeptical of concentrated power. You know the bullying and bossism it can lead to. Republicans should go to the populist right on the issue of bank breakup. Too big to fail is too big to continue. The megabanks have too much power in Washington and too much weight within the financial system. People think the GOP is for the bankers. The GOP should upend this assumption. In this case good policy is good politics.

If you are a conservative you’re supposed to be for just treatment of the individual over the demands of concentrated elites. Every individual in America making $400,000 a year or more just got a tax hike that was a blow to the gut. Regular working people are seeing their payroll deductions increase. But private-equity partners who make billions enjoy more favorable tax treatment. Their income is treated for tax purposes as a capital gain, so they’re taxed at far lower rates. This is called the carried interest exemption, and everybody knows it’s a big con.

The Republican Party should come out against it in a big way. Let the real rich pay the same percentage the not-actually-rich-but-formally-declared-rich are paying. If the Republicans did this they’d actually be joining the winning side, because carried interest will not survive the new era. If congressional Republicans care about their party they’ll want it to get credit for fairness, as opposed to the usual blame for being lackeys of the rich.

Republicans make too much of order and discipline. Sometimes a little anarchy is a good thing, a little disorder a sign of creativity and independence of thought.

The GOP should spend 2013 rebuilding an agenda based on a defense of family. It should couple that with an aggressive attack on cronyism, pivoting the GOP as the outsiders’ party…

The Republicans must have serious tax reform ideas. Those ideas should start with a much flatter tax with far fewer deductions. Those deductions should favor married couples with kids making it easier for one spouse to stay home through high deductions for a household with one earner. But likewise, the Republicans should consider in a two income household of joint filers, the second income earner should pay less tax on that income.

While the default rule should always be to never use the tax code to encourage or prohibit behavior — it should just be about raising revenue — as long as Washington intends to do that, the Republicans should favor a tax code that rewards two parent nuclear households with multiple children and, through the use of generous deductions, provide incentive for one spouse to stay home. That would not only help reduce the supply of workers in the workforce at a time of decreased demand for workers, but would also ease the burden of the social safety net.

By all means, Republicans should fight to keep spending as low as possible and block new efforts to expand the reach of government. And they should continue to present a vision for reform in bills that they can pass through the House. Let Obama propose his outrageous budget, and counter with a House-passed budget that actually addresses the nation’s spending problem. Haggle over the numbers and details, attack the Senate for their failure to pass a budget, and then cut the best deal possible. Laying out a governing agenda would give them something to build on if they can retake the Senate in 2014 and gain the presidency in 2016. And it would avoid the spectacle of trying to make the case for small government at a time when financial markets are freaking out because the debt ceiling hasn’t been raised and when there’s no hope of enacting their preferred policies anyway.

Conservatives should recognize that even though they can block key items of the liberal agenda with control of the House, they cannot advance the conservative agenda with Obama as president and Harry Reid as Senate Majority Leader. With this in mind, it’s short-sighted to advocate a strategy whereby Republicans dig in their heels at every opportunity in exchange for a few crumbs of concessions from Obama, at best. This strategy risks lasting damage to the conservative brand that will prevent real reform.

Meanwhile, Obama is preparing to prioritize immigration reform on his second-term agenda, a move that would do as much to divide the GOP as it would to score points among Hispanic voters. It would threaten to engulf the GOP in a heated internal debate that would make the fiscal-cliff arguments seem like child’s play. Immigration sparked the beginning of the Republican rebellion from George W. Bush, well before the tea party emerged as a GOP force. And the wave of tea party-aligned freshmen, most representing homogeneous districts, aren’t at all inclined to embrace positions they once railed against. Most Republican strategists believe that, without a jump in support from the growing Hispanic population, the GOP could become a permanent minority party—and immigration reform is the ticket to win them over. But they would acknowledge that quickly adding more Hispanics to the voter rolls could further damage the Republican party’s long-term standing as well. Conservative talker Sean Hannity, the day after the 2012 election, reversed course and came out for some version of comprehensive immigration reform; the next day on his radio show, Rush Limbaugh doubled down on his opposition…

I’ve long been skeptical about the feasibility of a third party, but I’m beginning to entertain the possibility that the GOP could become split apart as these policy debates come to the fore. It was only three years ago that pundits viewed the tea party movement as a legitimate third-party threat in the heat of their activism; instead, activists worked from within to nominate like-minded candidates and press their agenda.

Is it that much of a stretch to believe that, by 2016, the grassroots base will have taken control of the Republican Party, and the establishment will be looking to bolt?