The GOP's leadership reform challenge

But the Republican readjustment will also require a leader of a certain type. There is one combination that makes this transformation work at a national level: a reform-minded Republican who has the sympathy of religious conservatives. It is the profile of a candidate who can both get past the primaries and win a presidential election.

This would involve an imaginative leadership maneuver. A Republican reformer cannot use religious conservatives as a foil. He or she will need to appeal to religious conviction as a motivation for reform. This is not as far-fetched as it might first seem. Catholics, of all political varieties, are hounded by a theological commitment to the common good. American evangelicals have had incarnations as abolitionists and prairie populists. A Republican candidate proposing prison reform, or improvements to the foster care system, or solutions to the dropout problem, could appeal to religious conservatives while making unexpected political outreach.

A few are trying. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) invokes Catholic themes when talking about the need to promote economic mobility. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has made a persistent religious case for immigration reform. …