The Republicans should have run Rick Santorum for president. At least they would have received a definitive answer to their big question that even Rush Limbaugh could not deny.
The way forward is not further to the right.
The question persists because the GOP lost its nerve and put moderates at the top of their ticket these past two cycles.
They just weren't moderate enough, weighed down with their vice presidential choices and crippled by pandering to their conservative wing to escape the primaries.
But this isn't clear to the party, whose leaders and pundits are all over the board about what went wrong this time.
The demographic trends are relatively straightforward, though, and neither party is quite in line with them.
If there's anything America in its full patchwork of constituencies most wants now, it's fiscal restraint freed from Third World social values.
But in the only national referendum we have - the presidential election - the vast majority in the middle must choose between parties each offering half-loaves of prudence and intrusion.
A tiny but decisive majority of us this time tipped to the Democratic direction wherever the voting boundaries were not gerrymandered. We're a purple country with a bluish cast right now.
Failing to blaze bright red does not make us less exceptional as a country or as a people. That's just bitter talk from flush-faced losers, ironically enough trashing the very "exceptionalism" they waved like a shillelagh during the campaign.
America remains the beacon for the world and the best hope as a model for humankind regardless of the party currently in vogue.
Petty politics does not account for our greatness. That's a much deeper thing.
But the Republican Party has stumbled into confusion, and this may have quick consequences with the fiscal cliff looming just weeks away.
A Santorum candidacy might have been better for the country, at least in terms of establishing clarity. He, or another of the true conservative candidates, would have won 30-35 percent of the vote, essentially ending the tea party grip on an otherwise relatively sane party.
Instead, the odds of going over the cliff run much higher.
Perhaps falling off that cliff will have to be the painful cure for the intransigence afflicting both parties.
But we chose the Democratic path.
Can a blinded GOP see this? Or is it still party over country?
Editor and Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at email@example.com or 970-748-2920.