11/07/2012 04:30 EST | Updated 01/06/2013 05:12 EST

Republicans find themselves at crossroads as Obama begins his second term

WASHINGTON - Following U.S. President Barack Obama's relatively smooth path to a second term on Tuesday, the Republican party is at a crossroads, confronted with an evolving American electorate that is unceremoniously rejecting its vision for the country.

Obama handily won the votes of women, Hispanics, African-Americans and young Americans on Tuesday night. Mitt Romney, his Republican challenger, won aging white men —a dwindling voting bloc.

"To be frank, we're a Mad Men party in a Modern Family world," Chuck Warren, a Salt Lake City Republican strategist, said in an email to crestfallen clients on Wednesday.

For months, the party's moderates — including former Republican governors Jon Hunstman and Jeb Bush — have urged fellow Republicans to step to the centre of the political spectrum and get to work bringing women, young people and minorities into the fold.

"If I hear anybody say it was because Romney wasn't conservative enough, I'm going to go nuts," Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator from South Carolina, told Politico.com on the eve of election day.

"We're not losing 95 per cent of African-Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics and voters under 30 because we're not being hard-ass enough."

It wasn't the first time Graham had forcefully weighed in on the party's desperate need to broaden its base.

"The demographics race, we're losing badly. We're not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term," he said in August.

Did Tuesday night drive home Graham's point?

No less of an ego than Newt Gingrich, never one to easily admit mistakes, acknowledged Wednesday that the party erred when it assumed it could beat Obama on the economy alone.

"We were wrong," Gingrich said on "CBS This Morning," adding that he and others in the Republican brain trust "misunderstood what was happening in the country."

Party leaders must now figure out how to appeal to the voters who overwhelmingly cast their ballots for Obama — in particular Latinos, the fastest growing voting bloc in the country, he said.

"Unless we do that, we're going to be a minority party."

Brian Vargus, a political consultant and retired politics professor in Indianapolis, wonders why it's taken so long for the party to grapple with bitter divisions that are growing more pronounced every year.

"It's not like anybody who hasn't analyzed the party dynamics hasn't realized there's a social and fiscal split in that party that's very deep and very ingrained," he said.

"Twelve years ago, I thought there was a good chance the party would split in two. I turned out to be wrong, but is it really even one party anymore? It consists of these disparate factions — the Tea Party, evangelicals, libertarians, big-business types — and not only do they disagree on almost everything, they don't even like each other."

Even in the aftermath of defeat on Tuesday, there was no consensus among Republicans.

Charles Krauthammer, a conservative political columnist at the Washington Post, minimized the significance of Romney's loss, dismissing the former Massachusetts governor as merely a "transitional figure."

"He's a northeastern liberal, and that's not where we're going," Krauthammer said on Fox News. "That's not where the future of the Republican party is."

Rush Limbaugh, meantime, heaped praise upon Romney, laying the blame on Obama's alleged handouts to apparently lazy Americans as he referred to the president as "Santa Claus."

"Small things beat big things yesterday," the conservative radio star said on his show on Wednesday.

"Conservatism ... did not lose last night. In a country of children where the option is Santa Claus or work, what wins?"

He also dismissed any suggestions that the party is too white and must start reaching out to minorities.

"We have plenty of highly achieved minorities in our party," he said.

But others in the party are citing the loss of two Senate seats due to controversial anti-abortion comments made by a pair of Republican hopefuls. Those seats were considered safe bets for Republicans earlier in the year.

In Missouri, Todd Akin went down to defeat after his summertime assertions that "legitimate rape" rarely results in pregnancy. Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, meantime, also lost after claiming in a recent political debate that rape pregnancies are acts of God.

Those defeats suggest there's little appetite among most Americans to revisit the abortion debate — even in states that Romney handily won on Tuesday night.

Vargus said Mourdock lost even though Karl Rove's SuperPac, American Crossroads, was all but throwing cash at his flailing campaign in its dying days.

"In the past week, Karl Rove dumped $11 million for Mourdock here — and he still lost," said Vargus. "That's a pretty powerful message."

Apart from the grander arguments about the direction of the party in the wake of Obama's victory, there were pettier, more personal wounds being nursed among those on the right on Wednesday.

Many conservatives vilified New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for his effusive praise last week of Obama's over his handling of superstorm Sandy.

On the conservative American Spectator website, editorialist Robert Stacy McCain spewed vitriol at the Republican governor, said to be eyeing a run for president in 2016.

"The list of fools who have brought this disaster upon us certainly also will include New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the gelatinous clown who (a) hogged up a prime-time spot at the Republican convention to sing his own praises; (b) embraced Obama as the hero of hurricane Sandy; and (c) then refused to appear at campaign events in support of Romney's presidential campaign," he wrote.

"Good luck with the remainder of your political future, governor. It is unlikely Republicans shall soon forget your perfidious betrayal."