What is happening here is not that difficult to understand, if you understand conservatives. There are basically three roles that people play in the conservative movement: You can be (1) Ramesh Ponnuru or Reihan Salam, thinking rigorously about politics and policy; you can be (2) Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh, rallying the troops and providing frustrated foot-soldiers with catharsis; or you can be (3) Karl Rove, whose job it is to win elections. Conservatives are not very good at distinguishing between tacticians, eggheads, and entertainers, and though Rove is mainly in the tactician camp, his Fox News gig and his Wall Street Journal column put him in the public eye, an operative with one foot in the thinker-talker camp. And we conservatives have a hard time believing that our policy prescriptions and views are not as wildly popular as we’d like them to be, which is why every time a Republican loses an election, the Torquemadas among us begin their ritual denunciation: “We’d have won if only our guy had been pure enough, conservative enough, true-believing enough.” And then Republicans get buckets of campaign advice from people who have never had a hand in so much as a school-board election.
That fact is that in 2012, Republicans of all types lost, from tea-party guys such as Richard Mourdock to moderates such as Scott Brown. And Ronald Reagan himself could not have won the presidency as a Republican in 2008 with Christ Jesus as his running mate. The GOP was in bad odor, and not without some good reason.
The strange thing is that the party of free markets is having a hard time understanding an elementary concept from economics: the division of labor. Nobody is as good at what Rush Limbaugh does as Rush is, and nobody is as good at what Cato and AEI do as Cato and AEI are. But you don’t judge a guy like Karl Rove by whether he’s 100 percent right on immigration or chained-CPI, or by whether you like what you hear from him on Fox News. You judge him by his win-loss ratio. And his is pretty good.