At CPAC last week we noticed Rick Perry saying the Republicans lost in 2012 because their nominee wasn't conservative, which one must say was quite rich. And why was the nominee not a conservative? Perhaps because Perry failed.
He came into the primaries a governor of a large state, with an excellent record, a "big" personality, a reputation as a ferocious campaigner, and for some reason bombed quickly, leaving Mitt Romney the last sane man standing in a field of conservatives whose credentials were lacking and whose personalities verged on bizarre.
We heard Phyllis Schlafly, all but unchanged since her Goldwater moment, rip the wicked establishment figures who burdened her cause with what she calls losers, such as Romney, Bob Dole and John McCain. Well, they did lose (though not nearly as badly as Goldwater), but she never mentioned all the conservative duds who lost to them, much less all the appealing conservative figures who ought to have won in their place. This is because between Ronald Reagan (and Jack Kemp) and the new generation of Scott Walker and Marco Rubio, there were no appealing conservative figures, or none who could win on the national scene.
Instead, against establishment types who were national figures, the conservative movement flung preachers and pundits (Pat Robertson, Alan Keyes and Pat Buchanan), has-beens and losers (New Gingrich and Rick Santorum), and others still worse (Herman Cain, for example), who on second thought lost even conservative primary voters.
To deny all this reality, some movement types invented a conspiracy theory. The Establishment met at the Country Club on alternate Tuesdays to undermine all the upcoming Reagans (who sadly enough never existed). This is untrue, and it keeps these movement types from facing the real problem -- the failure of the conservative movement to find and develop successors to Reagan over the space of the past 20 years.
Perhaps Reagan's two wins over Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale made it seem almost too easy, convincing his fans that any conviction conservative can beat any rival going away. In retrospect, it may have been more accurate to say that a conviction conservative can beat any rival when he is the successful governor of one of the biggest states; a former film star with his own fame and stage presence; an ex-liberal who voted four times for Franklin Roosevelt and had an instinctive gift for connecting with Democrats; and running against a president with one of the worst first terms in history, featuring an economic crash, a rabbit attack and Iranian seizure of an American embassy.
When things worked less well for conservatives who lacked Reagan's luck and his genius, they decided their failure was explainable only by sabotage -- after all, how else could they lose? On the way, the Right developed a sense of entitlement (the Republican Party owed them a nominee of their liking); an embrace of victimhood; a habit of translating their tactical failure to win over more voters into a moral failure on the part of those voters for not sensing their value; and a belief that they can manage to win more elections by purging all factions (and people) not wholly in sync with their views.
This isn't the outlook with which Reagan won landslides. The GOP owes conservatives nothing beyond a chance and a hearing. The onus is on them to win over the voters. They are victims of nothing beyond their own much-too-high self-esteem.
Examiner Columnist Noemie Emery is contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."