WASHINGTON -- Republican losses in the 2012 elections were not a progressive leap for America or a repudiation of conservatives and the Tea Party -- it was just proof the right ran bad candidates, according to two Republican senators with ties to some of races where their side fell short.
The most remarkable losses were in Indiana and Missouri, where the GOP had been looking at near-certain wins until their right-leaning standard bearers both took controversial positions on abortion. Missouri Rep. Todd Akin declared women don't get pregnant from "legitimate rape." Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock proclaimed that pregnancy from rape is "something God intended to happen."
Republicans also fell short in other states that had looked like reliable pick-ups for them back at the start of the election cycle, losing races to Democrats in North Dakota, Montana and Wisconsin.
Many analysts, especially those leaning Democratic, declared the country was moving left, especially with the passage of same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization initiatives in some states.
But asked what message the GOP should take from their losses, Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Dan Coats (R-Ind.), argued that the Democrats didn't win on the issues, but rather individual candidates had failed Republicans.
"I think we were a unique situation in which our candidate twice said things that he either didn't intend to say or were very well used by the opposition," Coats said, referring to Mourdock, who -- before weighing in on on rape -- had argued against bipartisanship soon after he trounced longtime Sen. Richard Lugar in the GOP primary.
Mourdock "alienated himself with some supporters of Sen. Lugar," Coats said. "Then there was a statement toward the end that dramatically changed the outcome of the race. I think those two together. But I think that's a unique situation that happened in Indiana."
DeMint, whose PAC, Senate Conservatives Fund, backed both Akin and Mourdock, echoed Coats, saying both failed Senate candidates blew their talking points and allowed the media to portray them as extremists.
"We've got to be disciplined as candidates and talk about federal issues in terms of policy," said DeMint, whose goal is to make his party's contingent in the Senate more conservative.
"When we can get baited by reporters to talk about something that's a personal opinion, it really is not something we'd be debating at the federal level. We haven't even decided at the federal level the personhood issue of the child," DeMint said, referring to efforts in many states to confer full constitutional rights on fetuses. "To go from there to exceptions to rape is just not something we need to be discussing. It's basically opinion."
DeMint saw evidence for his view in the Senate wins of Rep. Jeff Flake in Arizona and Ted Cruz in Texas, although only Flake faced a strong challenge from a Democrat. He also cited the losses of three other Republicans: Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin, Rep. Rick Berg in North Dakota and Rep. Denny Rehberg in Montana.
"What I learned is the people who are still out running on bold ideas -- good candidates like Jeff Flake, Ted Cruz running on balancing the budget, repealing Obamacare, cutting spending; [Nebraska's] Deb Fischer did the same thing -- [those] conservatives won," said DeMint. "In the cases of Rehberg, Berg and Tommy Thompson -- having a moderate candidate does not win races for Republicans."
DeMint suggested what his side really needs to do is express itself better.
"We had problems nationwide as Republicans, I think," he said. "We have not communicated in a positive way a vision of where we're taking the country. I think that many thought that Republicans just needed to stand on the sidelines and make Obama the issue. But people need to know what we stand for, what we're going to do, and I don't think we did a good enough job telling people that."
When 2014 rolls around -- another year in which Republicans would seem to have the edge with just 13 senators up for reelection, compared to 20 Democrats -- they have to speak more carefully as well, DeMint said.
"We know the other side talks in sanitized soundbites for a reason, and they don't offer any plans for a reason. If you don't say anything you can't get criticized," DeMint said. "Republicans -- I think it's a good characteristic -- want to explain where they are, but any little soundbite can be used against you. Mourdock was simply trying to say every child is important to God, but the way he said it allowed folks to pound on him."
Democrats certainly disagreed that the election's outcome was an argument for running to the right. But so did Lugar, who fired off a blistering statement after his loss, saying Mourdock's "embrace of an unrelenting partisan mindset is irreconcilable with my philosophy of governance."
Lugar had no doubts his party should be paying better attention.
"I believe there is a message there," Lugar told HuffPost. He declined to elaborate, but pointed to his stinging concession statement and its denunciation of extreme partisanship.
"I still believe what I had to say," Lugar said.
His fellow Republicans don't see it that way, casting the remarks that brought down Akin and Mourdock as essentially irrelevant.
"I think it's just a matter of focus and discipline and letting people know what it is we're planning to do and not [being] carried off in all these other tangent issues," said DeMint. "That's just a gotcha game, and Republicans have got to be better at not falling for it."
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.
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2012 -- Mitt Romney
Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, speaks at the podium as he concedes the presidency on November 7, 2012 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images)
2008 -- John McCain
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., gestures to his supporters, while his wife, Cindy looks on during his concession speech at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
2004 -- John Kerry
Former Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) stands on stage with his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry after delivering his concession speech at Faneuil Hall on November 3, 2004 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)
2000 -- Al Gore
Democratic presidental candidate Al Gore leaves the voting booth after casting his vote at Forks River Elementry School in Elmwood, Tennessee on November 7, 2000. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
1996 -- Bob Dole
Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole lowers his head while making his concession speech to supporters at a Washington hotel, on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 1996. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
1992 -- George H.W. Bush
U.S. President George Bush concedes the election on Nov. 3, 1992 after losing to President-elect Bill Clinton. (BOB DAEMMRICH/AFP/Getty Images)
1992 -- Ross Perot
U.S. independent presidential candidate Ross Perot delivers his concession speech on November 3, 1992 after Democrat Bill Clinton won the presidential election. (Photo credit should read PAUL RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
1988 -- Michael Dukakis
Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis wipes his upper lip during the first presidential debate with his opponent U.S. Vice President George Bush in Winston-Salem, N.C. on Sept. 25, 1988. (AP Photo/Bob Jordan)
1984 -- Walter Mondale
Defeated presidential hopeful Walter Mondale addresses supporters at night, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 1984 at the St. Paul Civic center, conceding to President Reagan. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
1980 -- Jimmy Carter
U.S. President Jimmy Carter concedes defeat in the presidential election as he addresses a group of Carter-Mondale supporters in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 1980. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma)
1976 -- Gerald Ford
President Gerald Ford speaks in the White House Press Room in Washington on November 3, 1976, conceding defeat to Jimmy Carter. (AP photo/ stf)
1972 -- George McGovern
Sen. George McGovern and his family in Sioux Falls, election night, Nov. 7, 1972 after he was defeated by Richard Nixon, and conceding the election. (AP Photo)
1968 -- Hubert H. Humphrey
Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey spaks at the Alfred E. Smith memorial dinner in Waldorf Astoria on Oct. 16, 1968 in New York. (AP Photo/John Lent)
1964 -- Barry Goldwater
A contact sheet of Republican senator Barry Morris Goldwater of Arizona concedes the 1964 presidential election to President Lyndon Johnson at a press conference held at his campaign headquarters at the Camelback Inn, Phoenix, Arizona, on November 4, 1964. (Photo by Washington Bureau/Getty Images)
1960 -- Richard Nixon
Vice President Nixon points to home-made sign at airport as he arrives in home state to cast his ballot on Nov. 8, 1960 in Ontario, California. (AP Photo)
1956 -- Adlai Stevenson
Sen. John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts talks with Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson on August 12, 1956 in Chicago. (AP Photo)
1952 -- Adlai Stevenson
Movie Actress Piper Laurie (left) is wearing a donkey head beauty spot on her cheek as she chats with Gov. Adlai Stevenson of Illinois, Democratic presidential nominee in Portland on Sept. 8, 1952. (AP Photo)
1948 -- Thomas Dewey
Dewey ran as the presidential candidate of the Republican Party in the elections of 1944 and 1948. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
1944, 1948 -- Thomas Dewey
Thomas Dewey (1902 - 1971) Governor of the State of New York broadcasting over the 'Crusade of Freedom' radio. Dewey was the presidential candidate of the Republican Party in the elections of 1944 and 1948. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
1940 -- Wendell Wilkie
Wendell Willkie, rehearses a report to the nation at a New York City radio station on Oct. 26, 1942. Willkie was President Roosevelt's personal representative, and his Republican opponent in the 1940 presidential elections. (AP Photo/Murray Becker)
1936 -- Alf Landon
Gov. Alf M. Landon, G.O.P. presidential nominee, voting in Independence, Kansas on Nov. 3, 1936. (AP Photo)
1932 -- Herbert Hoover
Herbert Hoover is shown leaving Madison Square Garden, Oct. 31, 1932 in New York City, after delivering his major campaign address before a crowd estimated at 22,000. (AP Photo)
1928 -- Alfred E. Smith
Governor Alfred E. Smith speaks in New York on Nov. 2, 1928. (AP Photo)
1924 -- John W. Davis
John W. Davis, Democratic nominee for President of the U.S., and his wife, are pictured on the estate of Charles Dana Gibson at Seven Hundred Acre Island in Dark Harbor, Maine on July 21, 1924. (AP Photo)
1920 -- James M. Cox
Democratic candidates for the presidency and vice-presidency of the United States, Governor James M Cox and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882 - 1945) are seen at the head of a nomination parade in Dayton, Ohio on Nov. 1, 1920. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
1916 -- Charles Evans Hughes
1912 -- Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt during the progressive campaign of 1912. (AP Photo)