The most important political development of the just-concluded election cycle is the enormously effective, new, political involvement of grassroots conservatives through the Tea Party groups and other, major, analogous organizations.
My Leadership Institute has trained newly active conservatives in partnership with every one of these major groups. My staff and I therefore probably understand all these groups as well or better than anyone else.
If these groups continue active and growing, the 2012 elections will go much as the 2010 elections did.
If newly empowered Republicans are seen to keep the faith with the grassroots conservatives who elected them, these new activists will stay involved and prove decisive again in two years.
If not, the grassroots will turn against them with a vengeance.
After many years in which being considered a conservative was often a path to winning elections, many content-free politicians have found it in their interest to campaign as conservatives.
For movement-oriented conservatives, that's a problem of success. I'd rather have the problems of success than the problems of failure, but problems of success are nonetheless real.
Since the November 2010 elections, Republican leaders have missed opportunities to show that they really learned the lessons they say they have learned. The raising of Congressmen Fred Upton and Hal Rogers to important House committee chairs looks like business as usual. There were much better alternatives.
We can expect many such important tests in the next few weeks and months.
In this era when claiming to be a conservative can be a pathway to power for opportunists, we must better define who is truly a conservative.
I suggest this criterion: Conservatives are people who do more for conservative principles than they think they absolutely have to do. Only meeting such a standard will sustain the enthusiasm of the millions of grassroots conservatives who emerged politically in 2010.
Even Barack Obama acts on conservative principles when he thinks he absolutely has to. That does not make him a conservative.