Pity the conservatives — they certainly do pity themselves — in their perennial election-year plaint. Since time immemorial — 1988 — they have presented large fields in primary contests, and each time they have been forced to take squishes and Bushes, mavericks, Doles and McCains. They suspect plots, but the reasons are simple: The candidates they have backed have been pretty appalling. And the market for a genuine movement conservative may not be as big as they think.

Putting second things first, they fool themselves with statistics, noting that the number of self-described conservatives (something over 40 percent) is twice as large as that of self-described liberals. They assume they have a built-in and reliable base. But the word “self-described” is the problem. Mitt Romney would call himself a conservative, as would Rudy Giuliani, as would John McCain. People conservative on only some issues describe themselves as conservative. If the question were phrased to fit movement conservatives, the number might be cut in half…

Why was Reagan the last “real conservative” to win the nomination and the election that followed? He was the last and only with the experience and the political talent to reach beyond his own base. If conservatives want to win, they should try running a good politician. Who knows? It could work again.