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Rebuilding the GOP: Can Republicans pitch a bigger tent?

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If the goal is straightforward, however, the course is anything but. How does the GOP bridge that waning demographic gap exposed by the election and recalibrate its message to a changing electorate? How does it preach change to a staunch base of party faithful? How does it embrace a more colorful coalition of voters without alienating its fundamental values or its base? These are the difficult – and divisive – questions that the Republican Party will be grappling with for years to come.

But grapple it must, warns Republican strategist Ford O'Connell, "or else [it will be] wiped off the electoral map."

That process begins with diagnosing what, exactly, went wrong Nov. 6. Many party activists interpret the election's close split in popular vote as evidence that the fundamentals of the party are solid. These individuals, including Rush Limbaugh and tea party activist Matt Kibbe, say the problem was the candidate, not the party. If anything, they say, the GOP must become more conservative.

"We wanted a fighter like Ronald Reagan who boldly championed America's founding principles," Tea Party Patriots cofounder Jenny Beth Martin told The Dallas Morning News shortly after the election. "What we got was a weak, moderate candidate, handpicked by the Beltway elites and country club establishment."

Citing the roughly 51 percent to 49 percent split in popular vote, Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak says Mitt Romney's loss was not a repudiation of conservative ideals, but a cautionary tale about superior Democratic campaigning.

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