While there has been extensive debate over how conservatives could improve their message and image regarding social and economic issues, this debate ignores the fact that the issue that really killed us in 2006 and 2008 was foreign policy, particularly Iraq. Perhaps this is because most of us who are left in the party continue to believe that the Iraq was a just cause that ultimately resulted in an important victory in the broader War against Muslim extremists. But the perception that Iraq was invaded on false pretenses and/or caustically mismanaged turned our natural advantage on foreign policy into a disadvantage.
There are many voters out there who are fairly conservative on social and/or economic issues, and even foreign policy issues, who cast their votes for Obama and other Democrats these last couple cycles because they believed the Iraq was was unjust, and probably worried that McCain would start another war like it. To get them back I think we need to (1) explain why Iraq was a just and successful war, and (2) explain what criteria we would use in deciding whether to use force in future situations. Americans generally understand that we need a more muscular foreign policy than that offered by the Dems. But they also want to ensure that their blood and treasure is used in a legal manner for the good of the United States. We need to assure them that we will do that.