If you listened to the Republican candidates this year, you heard a conventional set of arguments. But if you go online, you can find a vibrant and increasingly influential center-right conversation. Most of the young writers and bloggers in this conversation intermingle, but they can be grouped, for clarity's sake, around a few hot spots:
PALEOCONSERVATIVES: The American Conservative has become one of the more dynamic spots on the political Web. Writers like Rod Dreher and Daniel Larison tend to be suspicious of bigness: big corporations, big government, a big military, concentrated power and concentrated wealth. Writers at that website, and at the temperamentally aligned Front Porch Republic, treasure tight communities and local bonds. They're alert to the ways capitalism can erode community. Dispositionally, they are more Walker Percy than Pat Robertson.
LOWER-MIDDLE REFORMISTS: Reihan Salam, a writer for National Review, E21 and others, recently pointed out that there are two stories about where the Republican Party should go next. There is the upper-middle reform story: Republicans should soften their tone on the social issues to win over suburban voters along the coasts. Then there is a lower-middle reform story: Republicans should focus on the specific economic concerns of the multiethnic working class.
SOFT LIBERTARIANS: Some of the most influential bloggers on the right, like Tyler Cowen, Alex Tabarrok and Megan McArdle, start from broadly libertarian premises but do not apply them in a doctrinaire way.
Many of these market-oriented writers emphasize that being pro-market is not the same as being pro-business. Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago published an influential book, "A Capitalism for the People," that took aim at crony capitalism. Tim Carney of The Washington Examiner does muckraking reporting on corporate-federal collusion. Rising star Derek Khanna wrote a heralded paper on intellectual property rights for the House Republican Study Committee that was withdrawn by higher-ups in the party, presumably because it differed from the usual lobbyist-driven position.
BURKEAN REVIVALISTS: This group includes young conservatives whose intellectual roots go back to the organic vision of society described best by Edmund Burke but who are still deeply enmeshed in current policy debates.
Yuval Levin, the editor of National Affairs is one of the two or three most influential young writers in politics today. He argues that we are witnessing the fiscal crisis of the entitlement state, exemplified most of all by exploding health care costs. His magazine promotes a big agenda of institutional modernization.
The lawyer Adam J. White has argued for an approach to jurisprudence and regulatory affairs based on modesty, but not a doctrinaire clinging to original intent.
Since Nov. 6, the GOP has experienced an epidemic of open-mindedness. The party may evolve quickly. If so, it'll be powerfully influenced by people with names like Reihan, Ramesh, Yuval and Derek Khanna.
David Brooks is a columnist for The New York Times.