In a "fiercely combative" debate Wednesday night, the four remaining GOP presidential candidates zealously touted their conservative bona fides, focusing on far-right favorites like immigration, abortion, and earmarks. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul barely discussed the lackluster economy, which most voters consider to be the most pressing issue facing the country. The debate reportedly left some Republicans worried that focusing on the fringes could undermine the party, which needs an inclusive message to appeal to independent voters in November. Did the debate hurt the GOP's chances against President Obama?

The GOP is crippling itself with Hispanics and women: The GOP is increasingly "talking to itself," say John F. Harris and Jonathan Martin at Politico, and candidates are slipping into "tone-deafness." Romney, for example, strongly praised Arizona's controversial immigration law — an applause line with Republicans, but a loser with Hispanics, who comprise the country's fastest-growing voting bloc. And the candidates' "extended back and forth on contraception" could turn off "independent suburban women," another crucial voting demographic.
"GOP fears rise over 2012 tone, message"

Huh? Candidates should offer more conservative red meat: Sadly, Wednesday's debate was run by the mainstream media for a mainstream audience, "not by the GOP for GOP voters," says Hugh Hewitt at his blog. Conservatives want to hear GOP candidates talk about "the president's dismal record" on bankrupt green energy giant Solyndra, the "Fast and Furious" gun-running debacle, recess appointments, and other issues important to the Right. If anything, these debates aren't conservative enough.
"The debate and a reply to Conor Friedersdorf re Mark Levin"

Let's face it — conservatives have hijacked the party: The GOP's problems are much deeper than focus and messaging, says Booman Tribune. The real issues "stem from an increasingly unpopular agenda." Many of the conservative activists deciding the GOP primaries want to eliminate entitlement programs, criminalize abortion, ignore climate change, and essentially return America to the 1950s. Most mainstream Americans "want no part of their actual agenda." It's no wonder the GOP establishment is concerned.
"Rhetoric won't save you"