As discouraging U.S. election results began trickling in Tuesday night, conservative recriminations against Mitt Romney’s campaign for the presidency started in earnest.
But while pundits and partisans may endlessly debate the pros and cons of the campaign, a more important battle may be brewing for the soul of the Republican Party.
Following Romney's defeat, many supporters at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center rejected the claim that the party must change, and said the electorate needs to open its eyes.
But Republican Maine Senator Susan Collins told the New York Times that "we have to recognize the demographic changes in this country. Republicans cannot win with just rural, white voters.”
American voters have twice in a row rejected the Republican brand for the presidency.
Over the last two years, Romney symbolized the party’s philosophical conflict between moderate and hard-right conservatism, as the Republican candidate tried to be everything to everyone. He at first attempted to cater to Tea Party-type conservatives with a hard swing to the right during the primaries, but then seemed to water down his positions to become "Moderate Mitt" during the presidential race.
While the party backed him in the end, there was always the feeling among the Tea Party faithful that he was never really one of them and that a more conservative choice, who truly believed in more hard-right principles, would have been a better candidate.
Others in the party disagreed, in particular the more moderate party establishment, saying Romney was the only electable choice, especially among the crop of Republican candidates he faced off against in the primaries.
"If I hear anybody say [we lost it] because Romney wasn’t conservative enough, I’m going to go nuts,” Senator Lindsay Graham told Politico. “We’re not losing 95 per cent of African-Americans, and two-thirds of Hispanics and voters under 30 because we’re not being hard-ass enough."
Former Republican governor Mike Huckabee said on Fox News on Tuesday night that Republicans have done a "pathetic job of reaching out to people of colour, something we've got to work on.
“It's a group of people that frankly should be with us based on the real policy of conservatism . But Republicans have acted as if they can't get the vote, so they don't try. And the result is they don't get the vote.”
But it may be more than not trying. Romney did poorly with Hispanic voters, in part because of his hard-right stand on illegal immigration during the primaries, as he tried to beef up his conservative credentials.
Exit polls also showed women, in particular single women, flocked to Obama, who spent the summer running ads trying to convince voters that Romney and the Republicans were waging a "war on women."
The former governor of Massachusetts received no help battling that image from Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock — two Senate candidates who gained national notoriety for controversial comments about rape and abortion.
Many observers, in fact, said Republicans missed an opportunity of possibly winning back the Senate, by nominating Tea Party-backed candidates who lost easy pickup states for the GOP.
“We have Tea Party arch-conservative candidates beating out more establishment-type candidates in some key races the Republicans expected would be gimmes,” Matthew Baum, professor of public policy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy school of government, said in an interview with CBC News earlier this week.
Conservative columnist George Will told Fox News that the future of the Republican Party may lie in people like Cuban-American Senator Marco Rubio, "who might have a way to broaden the demographic appeal of this party."
Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer suggested that the party doesn’t need to become more moderate and that the Republican Party has a "strong bench" of potential young leaders.
“There’s of course Paul Ryan, who will be a leader in the party. We have a whole rising young generation in the party. Kelly Ayotte, Bobby Jindal, Ted Cruz, the new senator from Texas. Marco Rubio, this whole generation who were just a year or two short in their careers from running this time are all going to be in the fray next time.
"And I think they are the future. And all the soul-searching about what ideology we’re going to pursue is going to come from them. And I think it will be a fairly Reaganite and conservative one. I think the future of the party is quite bright."