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National Review to GOP: You lost! Try winning some elections

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Aug. 16, 2012: The Tampa Bay Times Forum shown in Tampa, Fla., is the site of the 2012 Republican National Convention.AP

The press obsessed on the government shutdown and delivered a stinging verdict: the Republican rebels had overreached and badly damaged the party. Then journalists quickly moved on to the ObamaCare fiasco and other stories.

But conservatives never quite resolved whether the crusade had been a huge mistake.

That’s why this National Review piece by Ramesh Ponnuru and Editor Rich Lowry is so important. While treating the rebels with respect—one of the authors is a longtime friend of Ted Cruz—it says the effort was misguided and damaging.

And the reason doesn’t involve some highfalutin’ theory of historical conservative principles. It’s just basic math.

Boiled down to its essence, the piece says that there aren’t enough conservative Republicans in Washington to accomplish what the right wants—and they need to elect more.

Which is, more elegantly put, what President Obama was derided for saying in defense of his health care law—that if his opponents want to change things, go out and win elections.

The piece could be influential because NR is a conservative bible, and is artfully trying to take one side of this divisive debate without alienating the other side.

That is, the authors agree with many of the defunders’ goals, but say they didn’t have a chance in hell of pulling it off—and never came up with a plausible theory of how it might work.

Ponnuru and Lowry write that the conservatives’ key premise is “mistaken. That premise is that the main reason conservatives have won so few elections and policy victories, especially recently, is a lack of ideological commitment and will among Republican politicians. A bigger problem than the insufficient conservatism of our leaders is the insufficient number of our followers. There aren’t enough conservative voters to elect enough officials to enact a conservative agenda in Washington, D.C. — or to sustain them in that project even if they were elected.”

They do think the media went overboard: “The press covered the shutdown as a disaster for both the country and the Republican party. The damage in both cases was overstated.”

Well, maybe. Cruz is certainly a hero back in Texas. But the party’s national numbers are toxic.

Ponnuru and Lowry see today’s GOP as picking fights that place it to the right of Ronald Reagan, but “it just isn’t in a position to win those fights. Replace Mitch McConnell as Senate Republican leader with Ted Cruz…and that would still be true.”

Interestingly, they reject the theory that the Republicans lost power because George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney were insufficiently conservative—noting that the last two nominees ran ahead of most of the party’s federal candidates. And they reject the adage of Jim DeMint, the ex-senator now running the Heritage Foundation, that he’d “rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who believe in the principles of freedom than 60 who don’t believe in anything.” The problem, they say, is that “30 conservative senators cannot govern the country or even block liberal initiatives.”

Had this piece appeared elsewhere, it might have been derided as too squishy. But Ponnuru and Lowry are echoing what the establishment Republicans (and plenty of commentators) have been saying: You can generate plenty of headlines with confrontational tactics, but you can’t govern with one-half of one party in one house of Congress.

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The Last to Know

A Wall Street Journal scoop on the NSA’s surveillance of foreign leaders has sparked a new media meme about a disengaged president.

A “senior U.S. official,” responding to the uproar in Europe and elsewhere, says the program that monitored the calls of Angela Merkel and other allies has been ended.

“The account suggests President Barack Obama went nearly five years without knowing his own spies were bugging the phones of world leaders. Officials said the NSA has so many eavesdropping operations under way that it wouldn't have been practical to brief him on all of them.”

Wouldn’t have been practical? Isn’t that one kind of important for POTUS to know about, given the huge international embarrassment that has followed?

Now bloggers and tweeters are pointing to the ObamaCare rollout, the IRS and now the NSA in charging that the president doesn’t seem to have a handle on what’s happening in his administration.

Of course, this could be a form of damage control preferable to an admission that Obama did know of the surveillance of Merkel and others.

Politico’s Credo

The company’s credo, in a memo from the new CEO, Jim VandeHei:

“Take risks. Complacency almost killed our industry – and it will kill us if we ever let it take root and spread. We need to constantly push ourselves to roll the dice on everything from the voice of stories we write to the business ideas we pursue. We need to encourage everyone to think creatively about his or her job and ways to experiment, boldly but not recklessly. This comes through instigation by managers and setting aside time to discuss what can be done better, smarter and more innovatively.

“At the same time, celebrate failure. Yes, you read that correctly. People will only experiment and take risks if they know they will not be punished for failing. This doesn’t mean overlooking bone-headed moves. But it does mean a common understanding that not all experiments, even wise ones with high degrees of success, work. The trick is learning from each risk taken – and smartly applying what’s learned to the next challenge, so we can be the innovators.

“Enjoy the ride. We work for a hot brand doing important work with some of the smartest people in the world. It should rarely be a drag.”

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Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.