BOSTON -– Republican Party leaders on Wednesday began picking up the pieces of their movement, trying to figure how to put them back together.
The GOP was blindsided Tuesday, but also revealed. The Democrats' ground organization was beyond anything they'd imagined, pulling in new voters with stunning effectiveness. It exposed a major weakness in the Republican approach to winning elections, practically and intellectually.
"I don't think anyone on our side understood or comprehended how good their turnout was going to be," said Henry Barbour, a Republican committee man from Mississippi. "The Democrats do voter registration like a factory, like a business, and Republicans tend to leave it to the blue hairs."
But President Barack Obama's triumphant get-out-the-vote program also pulled back the curtain on the GOP's looming demographic demise. The exposure was so severe that there will be few inside the party who can deny the need to work toward immigration reform, as well the need to make a broader effort to communicate to parts of the electorate that the party has not tried to in the past.
There was a quick move to embrace the need for change, from the ranks of the party's next generation of elected leaders, as well as from its online flame-throwers.
"The conservative movement should have particular appeal to people in minority and immigrant communities who are trying to make it, and Republicans need to work harder than ever to communicate our beliefs to them," said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla).
Erick Erickson, founder of RedState.com, a conservative blog, said Republican candidate Mitt Romney's approach to Hispanic voters was "atrocious."
"Frankly, the fastest-growing demographic in America isn’t going to vote for a party that sounds like that party hates brown people," Erickson said.
However, the day after was not all self-reflection for those on the right. Some struck a far more combative tone.
"We are in a war. We're in a war to save this nation," said Michael Needham, chief executive of Heritage Action, an arm of the conservative Washington think tank, The Heritage Foundation.
Needham spoke in a direct-to-camera video as martial-sounding music swelled in the background. Persuasion as a political strategy did not appear to be on his mind.
Similarly, an assortment of conservative groups sent representatives to the National Press Club to vent their anger at the Republican Party "establishment."
"The battle to retake the Republican Party begins today," railed Richard Viguerie, a veteran of the conservative movement, who called on "the failed Republican leadership" to resign, and then named the leaders of the GOP in the House and Senate, as well as the head of the Republican National Convention.
However, figures like Viguerie have limited influence within the GOP these days. The real lightning bolts being thrown on Wednesday were by the party's super donors, who played a historic role in this election after a 2010 Supreme Court decision allowed them to give unlimited amounts to outside groups.
Many of the lightning bolts were aimed at none other than Karl Rove, the former Bush administration political genius who oversaw the deployment of nearly $400 million in campaign spending through outside groups American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS toward the presidential race and toward numerous Senate and House races.
"The billionaire donors I hear are livid," one Republican operative told The Huffington Post. "There is some holy hell to pay. Karl Rove has a lot of explaining to do … I don't know how you tell your donors that we spent $390 million and got nothing."
Rove even suffered the indignity of being insulted on Twitter by the blustery Donald Trump, who had attended Romney's election night party here on Tuesday night, but left early after it was clear that Obama had won a second term.
"Congrats to @KarlRove on blowing $400 million this cycle. Every race @CrossroadsGPS ran ads in, the Republicans lost. What a waste of money," Trump tweeted, inaccurately.
Crossroads GPS spent money in the Nevada Senate race, where Republican incumbent Sen. Dean Heller defeated Democratic challenger Shelley Berkley. The group also spent money on numerous House races.
Rove was forced to defend his group's expenditures live on Fox News on Tuesday night, and will hold a briefing with top donors on Thursday, according to Politico.
There were plenty of attacks on Romney himself, as well, with Erickson saying that he "stood for nothing and everything at the same time," and that his advisers were " outside charlatans, many of whom will now go work for Republican Super PACs making six-figure salaries, further draining the pockets of rich Republicans when not on television explaining how awesome and expert they are."
Ben Domenech, a conservative author, described Romney's candidacy as having "a message without music, delivered by a candidate with little or no personality, saddled with enormous advantages in life which become disadvantages in the world of politics."
There was also talk of a new conservative populism, an explicit admission that the GOP has lost all connection to working-class and lower-income voters, as well as minorities.
"We need to think creatively about big issues, philosophy, and how we can relate conservative values to the needs of a wider range of voters," wrote Ed Morrissey, a blogger at HotAir.com. "This will require a new set of national leaders for the Republican Party and conservatism. We need men and women who can think creatively, produce a positive agenda that isn’t defined by an oppositional nature, and who can eloquently communicate that agenda and the values that drive it."
The realignment inside the GOP won't just be at the level of its public faces. The party will have to confront a consultant culture that has stilted innovation and growth in winning elections.
" I think there was a big bomb that just went off in the party and people need to see where the bodies lie and let the dust settle," said the Republican operative. "The party needs to find the Rove of 1996, rather than Karl Rove who created George Bush and got him reelected twice and spent $500 million in the next two cycles."
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