. . . I want to add one more thing so simple-minded that I'm almost embarrassed to mention it. Here it is: if you pursue popular policies, you win. If you pursue unpopular policies, you lose. Ideology is secondary.
In George Bush's first term, Republicans passed tax cuts, No Child Left Behind, campaign finance reform, Sarbanes-Oxley, a Medicare prescription drug plan, went to war against Afghanistan and Iraq, and appointed a bunch of conservative judges. Liberals may not have liked all of this stuff, but all of it polled pretty well. They were popular policies.
In Bush's second term, Republicans pursued Social Security privatization, made a spectacle over Terri Schiavo, and fiddled while New Orleans drowned. In addition, they passed a bankruptcy bill and an energy bill that didn't win them any points with rank-and-file voters, fought over immigration legislation, and refused to even allow a vote on widely supported measures like a minimum wage increase. This did not exactly reflect the popular will.
It isn't exactly intellectual hence, perhaps, why it has been so little remarked on in the wider post election discussion but this description makes a lot of sense.