The Republican party is now in the wilderness. Before its members can find their way out, they must decide whose lead they will follow.
Conservative media, a monolith that helped the launch the GOP into power more than 30 years ago, is now showing fractures, both generational and on the very principles for which it fights. The dominant story in the days that followed the re-election of President Obama, and the Democrats' increasing of their senate majority, was one of demographics: exit polling showed that the president took 71 percent of the Latino vote, which accounted for 10 percent of the overall voter turnout.
Obama supports comprehensive immigration reform, and took action this summer to ensure that immigrants who came to the US as young children would not be deported. Despite former President George W. Bush's desire to pass immigration reform, Republicans have long stood against anything that they say would resemble amnesty. In the days since the election, making the Republican party more welcoming to Latinos has become a dominant talking point, but numbers talk louder than rhetoric -- 77 percent of Hispanic voters were pro-reform, Gallup found -- and suddenly, some arch-conservative pundits have been swayed on policy.
"We've gotta get rid of the immigration issue altogether. It's simple for me to fix it," Fox News commentator Sean Hannity said on his show late last week. "I think you control the border first, you create a pathway for those people that are here, you don't say you gotta home. And that is a position that I've evolved on. Because you know what -- it just -- it's gotta be resolved."
Likewise, Charles Krauthammer, the NY Times columnist, has called for legalization, if not a full path to citizenship for those who entered the United States illegally.
But they are still a minority chorus in the party.
Rush Limbaugh defended the Republican party on the issue of demographics and leadership, citing Condoleezza Rice and several Hispanic elected officials. Instead, he put forward that the problem for the GOP was voter turnout.
"My point is that there is a whole bunch of erroneous analysis taking place by the Republican Party with the aid and comfort of the Democrats and the media who would love for the Republican Party to give up on its ideologically principled positions, and the Republican Party, depending on how you hear these sound bites and of course the panicked aftermath of every election, like [John] Boehner."
Conservative radio host Mark Levin took aim Krauthammer's proposal, grouping him with the many he called "stupid people posing as commentators on cable TV."
"So, let's wait a minute here. If we grant 20 million people amnesty tomorrow, guess what? They're still not citizens, they don't get to vote. So how would that help?" he asked on his show last week. "'Well, because other Hispanics will take note and credit Republicans with conferring amnesty on those Hispanics.' Really? And isn't the next demand citizenship and the right to vote? Since it will be said that amnesty creates, in essence, second class citizens? Of course it will! Not so simple then, is it?"
And there is the rub on the immigration debate for the GOP: it folds into the larger issue of entitlements -- food stamps, Medicare, welfare -- that the conservative movement has sworn to eliminate.
As Limbaugh put it in his election post-mortem, Republicans could not top what he called the Democratic party's Kris Kringle tendencies.
"Conservatism ... did not lose last night," he said. "It is practically impossible to beat Santa Claus. People are not going to vote against Santa Claus, especially if the alternative is being your own Santa Claus."
That echoes the election night lament of Bill O'Reilly, who said that Republicans lost because people "want stuff."
"The demographics are changing," he said. "It’s not a traditional America anymore and there are 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff, they want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama."
On this matter, the party splits again. Boehner, the Speaker of the House, has signaled that he is willing to negotiate to help the nation avoid the so-called fiscal cliff -- a mix of tax increases and spending cuts that could allegedly plunge the economy back into recession -- but was quick to add that he will not consider new taxes. Bill Kristol, of The Weekly Standard, said on Sunday he believes that millionaires could stand to have their tax rates raised (Obama is calling for the end to tax breaks for income over $250,000). But it's a non-starter for many.
"Until the entitlement mentality is destroyed, the Democratic Party of Redistribution will always win," syndicated columnist and radio host Laura ingraham said in a post-election blog post. "If voters put the good of the country ahead of their personal wants, they will see everyone benefiting, themselves included. Let’s implement some trickle-down patriotism before it’s too late."
The same message came from Michelle Malkin, who also stressed the need for a continued resistance to gay marriage and funding Planned Parenthood, two other one-time wedge issues that are beginning to trend in a liberal direction. As Politico's Dylan Byers reports Monday, another factor that comes into play is the GOP's own demographics: younger leaders and columnists are hoping for a more progressive outlook on immigration, women's rights and marriage, so there will be a gradual shift as those voices earn more attention.
The future of the party, though, has taken a back seat in the wake of CIA director David Petraeus' resignation over an affair with his biographer. The attacks on the American embassy in Libya have become a conservative obsession, as they believe Obama was slow to react and had faulty intelligence, and conspiracy theories arose after Petraeus stepped down just days before congressional hearings on the matter.
"COINCIDENCE?! Petraeus is set to testify NEXT week at a closed door session on Capitol Hill abt Benghazi. Did BHO push him out? This stinks!" Ingraham tweeted. And Fox News' correspondent Jennifer Griffin said on Friday's O'Reilly Factor that "The timing of this is very suspicious in terms of the fact that he will no longer have to testify before the House and Senate intel committees."
It is safe to assume that many talk radio hosts will be saying the same thing on Monday.