Whatever the Republican Party is doing right now (does anyone have a clue?), one thing is clear: They can't keep doing what they've been doing.
Last time around, the Republican candidate lost to quite possibly the worst president ever, who incurred as much national debt as every president before him combined and held exactly the same sky-high unemployment rate on Election Day 2012 as the day he took office four years earlier. Should've been a slam-dunk for the GOP; the Democratic president won in a landslide.
But he won in the simplest way: He courted gays (even had an epiphany that led to his late in the race support of gay marriage) and made the campaign about women's "health" — which meant abortion and federally funded birth control. While gays are a tiny voting bloc, not tiny is the number of Americans — especially young people — who see the issue as tantamount to tolerance (now wholly owned by the Democrats). Oh, and women are not a tiny voting bloc.
The Republican mantra now is this: Maintain the GOP as a primarily a pro-life, traditional-marriage party, but respect those with other opinions. The party's previous loser, Sen. John McCain, said just that shortly after the November landslide: "I'm proud of my pro-life position and record, but if someone disagrees with me, I respect your views."
Yet who can forget the blunders of GOP candidates W. Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock.
Mr. Akin said: "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." Mr. Mourdock said: "If life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."
As much as Republicans downplayed the comments, Americans saw the simple truth: These were two members of the GOP, and Mitt Romney was at the top of the party's ticket.
Sure, candidates could do what new party darling Sen. Ted Cruz did during his Texas campaign. Asked about Mr. Mourdock's comments, he said: "People are struggling. People are hurting. They're trying to find a job. And the Obama Democrats, with the help of a lot of folks in the media, are trying to do everything they can to distract from the issue that matters to voters today."
Pretty slick, but it won't go far. For the first time in history, "pro-choice" has topped "pro-life" in a Gallup poll. A majority of Americans still find the practice "morally wrong," but 6 in 10 say it should be legal in "certain circumstances." Equally tight but equally clear, a majority of Americans now support gay marriage.
Already, the party is grooming its chosen one. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida was the pick to deliver the rebuttal to the president's State of the Union last week. Of Cuban descent, he is seen by the party establishment as an ideal candidate. But he's pro-life and opposes gay marriage. He'll lose in a landslide, just like the past two GOP presidential nominees.
Make no mistake: He is right about abortion: "This era will be condemned for this, I have no doubt about it. ... The right to life is a fundamental one that trumps virtually any other right I can imagine, because without it none of the other rights matter."
But as America becomes ever more secular, fewer now view the issue through the lens of faith.
What's more, still fewer think the federal government should decide such a moral matter — which, one would think, dovetails with Republican ideals to keep government out of our lives. Ditto for gay marriage.
Others eying the presidency are looking to leave the third-rail issues behind.
There's former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The unmarried descendant of slaves is pro-choice, but with restrictions. And she supports civil unions for gays.
Another carving out an entirely different path is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. He is pro-life, but with important exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother — those "certain circumstances" from the Gallup poll. And while he vetoed a gay marriage bill in his state, preferring that voters — not the statehouse — decide the issue, he believes homosexuality is not a sin and that gay people are simply born that way.
Then there's Republican-by-name-but-libertarian-slash-tea-party Sen. Rand Paul, heir to former Rep. Ron Paul's sycophantic supporters. He's already well outside the Rubio-establishment box, and wandering further afield. While he opposes abortion — even in the case of rape and incest — he says states should decide. Same with gay marriage: States, the good libertarian says, can decide for themselves.
So, a new wave of Republicans is coming, a wave that looks past the pro-life, traditional-marriage planks of the Grand Old Party.
By doing so, they hope Americans will be able to again see the GOP as Ronald Reagan's "Big Tent" party and put aside the divisive social issues. They want Americans to see the common-sense GOP principles that most voters share: The federal government is too invasive, spending is out of control and taxes are far too high — on everyone.
Pity the Republican establishment candidate in 2016. He'll lose the primary this time around — as he should.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.