It was the morning of the Republican hangover.
After four years in which the jobless rate never dipped below 7.8 percent, with millions of Americans still unemployed or underemployed and median household income falling, Republicans still failed to unseat President Obama and, for the second election in a row, fell short in their efforts to win control of a Senate that seemed within reach. The Wednesday-morning quarterbacking began quickly.
Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, captured the feelings of many Republicans when he said in a statement that "we have a period of reflection and recalibration ahead for the Republican Party."
"While some will want to blame one wing of the party over the other," Mr. Cornyn said in a statement, "the reality is candidates from all corners of our G.O.P. lost tonight. Clearly we have work to do in the weeks and months ahead."
There was no shortage of theories -- sometimes contradictory -- from inside and outside party in the first hours after the 2012 elections.
Some analysts and Republican strategists argued that the party could not win while alienating the growing Hispanic vote with its tough stance on immigration, could no longer afford to nominate candidates who fired up its conservative and Tea Party wings but turned off the more moderate voters in general elections, and that it had to find ways to win more support from women and young voters. But some conservatives took the opposite view, arguing that Mitt Romney had been essentially too moderate, a candidate who had won the minds if not the hearts of the party's base.
But a number of Republican strategists who have worked on recent presidential campaigns argued that demography is destiny, and that the party was falling out of step with a changing country.
John Weaver, a Republican strategist who worked on the presidential campaigns of Senator John McCain and Jon M. Huntsman Jr., has long argued that the party's reliance on the votes of older white men was putting it on a demographically unsustainable path.
"We have a choice: we can become a shrinking regional party of middle-aged and older white men, or we can fight to become a national governing party," Mr. Weaver said in an interview. "And to do the latter we have to fix our Hispanic problem as quickly as possible, we've got to accept science and start calling out these false equivalencies when they occur within our party about things that are just not true, and not tolerate the intolerant."
Matthew Dowd, who was a top adviser in the re-election campaign of President George W. Bush, said on ABC's "Good Morning America" that the Republican Party had become a "'Mad Men' party in a 'Modern Family' America."
And Mark McKinnon, another former strategist for President Bush and Mr. McCain, argued that the party "needs messages and policies that appeal to a broader audience."
"This election proved that trying to expand a shrinking base ain't gonna cut it," Mr. McKinnon said in an e-mail. "It's time to put some compassion back in conservatism. The party needs more tolerance, more diversity and a deeper appreciation for the concerns of the middle class."
But not everyone was urging the party to run to the center. "No doubt the media will insist that Republicans must change, must sprint to the center, must embrace social liberalism, must accept that America is destined to play a less dominant role in the world," Fred Barnes wrote on the blog of The Weekly Standard. "All that is hogwash, which is why Republicans are likely to reject it. Their ideology is not a problem."
"But there is also a hole in the Republican electorate," he continued. "There aren't enough Hispanics. As long as two-thirds of the growing Hispanic voting bloc lines up with Democrats, it will be increasingly difficult (though hardly impossible) for Republicans to win national elections. When George W. Bush won a narrow re-election in 2004, he got 44 percent of the Hispanic vote. If Romney had managed that, he would have come closer to winning. He might even have won."
And Erick Erickson made this plea at RedState.com: "Just please, G.O.P., please -- in four years let's not go with the 'he's the most electable' argument. The most electable usually aren't."
Richard A. Viguerie, the chairman of ConservativeHQ.com and a pioneer in the field of political direct mail, released a statement saying that the party should never again nominate "a biggovernment establishment Republican" for president.
"Mitt Romney's loss was the death rattle of the establishment G.O.P.," Mr. Viguerie said in the statement. "Far from signaling a rejection of the Tea Party or grass-roots conservatives, the disaster of 2012 signals the beginning of the battle to take over the Republican Party and the opportunity to establish the G.O.P. as the party of small-government constitutional conservatism."
But there were bright spots for the party. Aided by redistricting, Republicans kept their hold on the House, and Speaker John A. Boehner announced that he would be speaking Wednesday afternoon about the "fiscal cliff and the need for both parties to find common ground."
Republicans extended their dominance in state government, picking up at least one governor's seat Tuesday night and increasing the number of Republican governors to 30, the most there have been in more than a decade. Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, said that the state-level gains Republicans made in "provides optimism for the future."
And of course, even two years in politics is a long time. Just after Mr. McCain lost the 2008 elections there was similar hand-wringing in the party. Two years later, Republicans made historic gains in the midterm elections.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.