The GOP freak-out is well under way, with leading voices in the party falling into the two predictable camps: the stick-with-it conservatives and the embrace-the-center crowd.

The first group is being coined "traditionalists" today by David Brooks in his column in The New York Times, and the more tolerant group of moderates are being termed "reformers." One crowd wants Sarah Palin to lead the charge, while the other hopes she never graces the Lower 48 again. You can guess who is who.

For conservatives who gathered last week at the home of conservative watchdog Brent Bozell, founder of the Media Research Center, the center is what got Republicans into this mess. As Bozell declared, "the moderate wing of the Republican Party is dead."

But others, like Brooks, see the numbers on the wall β€” that the party must adapt to a changed electorate, that "conservatives have to appeal more to Hispanics, independent and younger voters. They cannot continue to insult the sensibilities of the educated class and the entire East and West coasts," wrote Brooks.

Brooks has had as rough a time as any Republican this year, chastising "elites" and "coastal condescenders" who were criticizing Sarah Palin, just weeks before calling her a "fatal cancer" on the Republican Party. His journey is illustrative of the angst that is clearly gripping many under the Big Tent these days.

Rich Lowry of the National Review joins Brooks in arguing for an expansion, rather than a contraction, within the party. In a column he penned in The Washington Post, Lowry said "connecting better on the economy and middle-class pocketbook and quality-of-life issues will go a long way toward alleviating the troubles the GOP had in reaching moderates, suburbanites and even Latinos this year ... it is indeed, as conservatives have been insisting in recent days, a center-right country. The question is how to appeal to the center again."

Returning to core principles is wise, but Lowry and Brooks are correct β€” it’s a numbers game. If the GOP can learn one thing from Barack Obama, it is this: To win on Election Day, you have to get more votes than the other guy; you have to end up being the party or the candidate with broader appeal.

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