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GOP Belief in Fox News Fantasies Could Make the Party Irrelevant

Republicans' future hangs on whether they prefers the 'conservative entertainment complex' to reality.

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To let go of these fantasies would mean grappling with America as it exists, not as Mitt Romney thinks it should. The tentative steps Republican leaders in Congress already made toward some form of immigration reform suggest that reality has a chance, though there will be those in the GOP, or proudly to its right, who will protest any policy movement toward the center as an abandonment of conservative principles. To those scolds, I suggest that one of the wonderful things about democracy is that you can believe in whatever you want, and argue to convince people to agree with you, but policies don't always have to conform completely to one set of beliefs or another. They just have to deal with – there's that word again – reality.

If the GOP can release itself from the makers/takers rubric and examine, for instance, the number of lives changed for the better by our social safety net, they can talk about changing its structure with a degree of credibility. If they can let go of a vision of America where rights are static, they might find an audience for a debate about where growing sets of rights come into conflict.

Romney lost the respect of many voters because it seemed like would do anything to win. The president's final argument against him centered on accusations of "Romnesia" – and conveniently forgetting whatever it is you've said before does seem deeply cynical. But the original Cynics were actually devoted to seeing the world for what it is: false beliefs, they argued, ultimately lead to suffering.

If the next Republican nominee wants to win the White House, the most cynical approach is the most realistic one: be a little less Republican.

Ana Marie Cox is political columnist for the Guardian US.