Like so many other conservatives, I had come to assume that the Tea Party, the 2010 election results, Solyndra, 8 percent unemployment, Benghazi, and an aroused opposition (said one Romney adviser: on election day, "you just don't want to get in the way

Like so many other conservatives, I had come to assume that the Tea Party, the 2010 election results, Solyndra, 8 percent unemployment, Benghazi, and an aroused opposition (said one Romney adviser: on election day, "you just don't want to get in the way of a Republican heading into the polls") assured defeat for Barack Obama's bid for a second term. His victory was therefore particularly bitter. Was I alone in sleeping badly and avoiding the news for days?

So many analyses have been proffered for what went wrong: Romney was too conservative or not conservative enough, he ran on his biography, he shied away from winning issues, he could not connect with the masses. So many conclusions have also been drawn: conservatives need to modernize (hello, gay partnerships), they must reach out to non-whites (welcome, illegal immigrants), they should nominate true conservatives.

Myself, I subscribe to the "politics is downstream from culture" argument. While conservatives sometimes prevail in policy debates, they consistently lose in the classroom, on the best-seller list, on television, at the movies, and in the world of arts. These liberal bastions, which provide the feeders for Democratic party politics, did not develop spontaneously but result from decades of hard work traceable back to the ideas of Antonio Gramsci.

Ed Gillespie, former chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Conservatives should emulate this achievement. With Ed Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, I look forward to the day when it will be as cool "to believe in the principles of free enterprise, the need for strong national security, the merits of traditional families, and the value of religious faith as it is to sneer at capitalism, demean the military, denigrate parents, and deride religion."

Happily, American conservatives have a counter-establishment already in place: the Wall Street Journal and Fox News Channel may be best known, but the Bradley Foundation, Pepperdine University, the Liberty Film Festival, and Commentary matter no less. Yes, conservative institutions rarely enjoy the history, resources, and prestige of their liberal counterparts – but they do exist, they are growing, and they possess a convincing and optimistic message.

It will be a long, hard road to traverse, but there is no short cut and it can succeed.

Mr. Pipes (www.DanielPipes.org) is president of the Middle East Forum. © 2012 by Daniel Pipes. All rights reserved.


John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation.

Feb. 25, 2013 update: John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation, a North Carolina-based public-policy think tank, offers an important corrective to Republican gloom in an article, "States of Conservatism," in today's National Review, arguing that

Republican success in state and local politics is an underreported story. … The post-2012 talk of conservatism's electoral weakness and policy failures is disconnected from the personal experiences of many politicians, journalists, analysts, and activists who work at the state and local levels. While grassroots conservatives were disappointed at the reelection of President Obama and Republican misfires in races for the U.S. Senate, they continue to enjoy unprecedented influence and success in state capitals — while local liberals feel alienated from the governments and institutions they long dominated.

A few facts:

Even after giving up some of their 2010 legislative gains thanks to Obama's 2012 coattails, Republicans still control more state offices than they have in generations. They hold 30 of 50 state governorships and 58 of 98 partisan legislative chambers. The nonprofit news service Stateline reports that in 25 states, comprising 53 percent of the U.S. population, the GOP controls both the executive and the legislative branch. Only 13 states, with 30 percent of the U.S. population, have unified Democratic governments. In addition, Republicans are strongly represented in local government, albeit primarily at the county level rather than in the increasingly Democratic big cities. In some states, such as my native North Carolina, the GOP's local success has no modern precedent: A majority of the state's 100 county governments are now under Republican control, which hasn't been the case since General Sherman's army was camped outside Raleigh.

Hood notes an little-observed pattern:

Another way to think about these political trends is as a giant switcheroo. From 1968 to 1988, Republicans won popular-vote majorities in five of six presidential elections while Democrats were firmly ensconced as the majority party of state governments and the U.S. House. But from 1992 to 2012, Democrats have won popular-vote majorities in five of six presidential elections while Republicans have gained the advantage in House races and the states. (Control of the U.S. Senate hasn't precisely tracked the other results.)

The result is an optimism about making a difference:

In the past, many able conservatives took a look at their bleak post-election prospects and decided against running for governor, the legislature, or county office. Now, many of them seek office with the expectation not only of winning in November but also of winning subsequent battles over taxes, government spending, regulation, education, and other issues they care about. Greatly improved candidate recruitment has proved to be one cause of Republican political success at the state and local level. …

Often without a great deal of national attention, conservatives have turned their electoral victories in the states into legislative victories on many policy issues. These victories include Wisconsin's initiatives on tort reform and public-sector unionization, Michigan's passage of right-to-work protection, the implementation of criminal- and civil-justice reforms in Texas, and successful referenda in a dozen states — nearly all governed by Republican majorities — to enact constitutional amendments outlawing eminent-domain abuse. These victories are important not only on their own terms but also because they can build institutional knowledge, conservative confidence, and momentum for future battles, including those in the nation's capital.

Hood concludes that "the conservative movement should stop wallowing in its recent failures and start studying and replicating its recent successes. You'll find those successes, and most conservatives, far from the banks of the Potomac."