On Wednesday morning, half of America woke up to the grim realization that Barack Obama is still President and will be for another four years. Despite months of frantic and tireless work, the Republican Party came up short of ousting the President, and to top it all off, they not only failed to gain a majority in the Senate, but instead lost three Senate seats. This means that the near future of government in America is four more years of political stalemate – if we’re lucky. If we’re not, it’ll mean an aggressive assault on the civil liberties of American citizens and a dramatic extension of government dependency and the welfare state.

Unfortunately, the blame for this massive failure falls squarely on the shoulders of the Republican Party itself, primarily GOP leadership that should have known better. These leaders refused to take a warning from history and plugged their ears to the voices of the loud and dedicated mass of citizens known as the grassroots. Indeed, the party repeatedly turned a cold shoulder on these activists, who tend to be zealous social conservatives or libertarians concerned about their eroding civil liberties. The GOP failed to realize that these grassroots supporters form the base of the party. They are the momentum and they are passionate because of ideas. The GOP failed to elect a suitable candidate to represent these ideas. Consequently, they lost.

People didn’t come out for Romney like they were supposed to. Although most of the talking heads are not discussing this fact, well over 2 million American voters voted for someone other than Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. That’s around 1.8%. To make matters worse, preliminary reports are suggesting that voter turnout was considerably lower this year than in 2008. And Romney received less votes than John McCain got four years ago – over 2.5 million less. In short, a lot of people who voted for McCain in 2008 didn’t vote for Romney this year. And way too many Republicans didn’t turn out at all.

Let’s hope that this costly defeat won’t be wasted, but will serve to transform the Republican Party into a mighty and dynamic force for the future – and an honorable one. If this is to happen, there are five things the party needs to learn:

1. Moderate, big-money candidates rarely excite the base enough to beat suave, charismatic, liberal candidates. Remember Bob Dole? John McCain? The Republican base cherishes some basic principles of conservatism. Nominate a candidate who violates these or fails to display his dedication to them, and you automatically lose an important percentage of voters. Even when the stakes are high, and even when the Democratic candidate is as polarizing and disliked as President Obama.

2. Play fair. The fraud that occurred at the RNC, at various state conventions, and during the primary elections/caucuses in states like Maine and Iowa, put a serious kink in Romney’s electability among droves of Republicans. People don’t want to vote for someone whom they suspect is dishonest and mercenary. If you cannot win your own party’s nomination ethically, you should not expect them to come flocking to your aid in a general election.

3. Don’t sacrifice ideals for the myth of electability. Electability is determined at the ballot box. It cannot be decided in advance by political analysts. Indeed, talking about it usually helps to shape it – for better or for worse. Republican voters in this election were pressured from the beginning of the primary season to vote for Romney because he was “the only electable candidate,” and “the only one who can defeat Obama.” This fear-mongering refrain did much to boost Romney’s numbers in the polls and edge out more popular candidates. But now that the big election is over, we see that all the talk about electability only served to land us with a lousy and uninspiring candidate who didn’t beat Obama. Conservative voters would have done better to heed the advice of former President John Quincy Adams:

“Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”

4. Don’t nominate a candidate who is ashamed of conservative values. Unfortunately, Romney made it very evident that he never wholeheartedly embraced the principles upon which conservatism rests. He utilized a few of our talking points, and slipped in some of our stats and arguments when the time seemed opportune, but his policies were not based on the formal principles of liberty. They were based on political expediency. Although the examples of this are numerous, a representative is the ad campaign he ran in the swing states of Ohio, Wisconsin and Virginia, touting his “balanced” stance on abortion. It’s also interesting to note that during his debates with President Obama, he warred on the turf of the welfare state and not on the groundwork of liberty. Rather than referencing the constitution to show that President Obama’s policies were entirely contrary to U.S. law, he seemed determined to demonstrate that he didn’t want to do nearly as many conservative things as the Democrats said he did.

Additionally, Romney did not address the authoritarian nature of Obama’s presidency, the numerous executive orders that the president has signed, the wildly unpopular National Defense Authorization Act, the drone wars, the Federal Reserve, or inflation. Most liberty-loving voters are uber-concerned about these issues, and they took his silence on them as a signal that he intended to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor – a wise call on their part, perhaps.

5. Nobody owes you their vote. You must respect them and earn it.
After souring the mood of much of the voting bloc, the GOP tried to rouse the base by acting like conservatives had no choice but to vote for Romney, ridiculing anyone who considered a third-party vote. This served to further alienate many voters who were already leaning towards leaving their Republican affiliation altogether and going completely independent. The party bosses will have to fight hard to recover these voters for 2016. Perhaps they should start by clothing themselves with a little humility and apologizing to the values voters they left behind in their mad dash for the White House.

From the notorious RNC Power Grab in August to the nomination of the liberal-leaning Mitt Romney, in the months leading up the 2012 elections, GOP party bigs repeatedly conveyed to grassroots supporters the message that the philosophical principles of conservatism are not important to the Republican Party. The only thing that mattered was to win, to defeat Barack Obama, to put anyone else in his place. Unfortunately, in order to bring about this objective they cheated, lied and engaged in shockingly unethical behaviors. Now that their pragmatic scheme has failed utterly, it’s only fair that the so-called ‘idealistic’ conservatives should be invited back in to rebuild the languishing party on a solid foundation of ideology – if they’ll come.

Bryana Johnson | @_Bryana_Johnson