REPUBLICANS are hearing a lot about how they need to abandon their principles on issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion if they want to win elections.
But the GOP's problem today is not that it is too socially conservative; it is that Republicans are seen as defenders of the rich and powerful instead of the poor and vulnerable.
If Republicans want to change that impression, there is a simple solution: Be more like Pope Francis - defender of the family, the unborn and the poor.
Too many Republicans fall short on that last count, and they are paying for it at the polls.
Mitt Romney did not lose the presidency because he opposed same-sex marriage. He lost because he dismissed 47 percent of the country as a bunch of moochers.
He lost because he declared, "I'm not concerned about the very poor." He lost because he was seen as out of touch with Americans who are struggling to keep their heads above water.
An Economist/YouGov poll last April tells the story: 35 percent of Americans said they believed Romney cares about the poor, and 38 percent said Romney "cares about people like me."
You can't win the presidency when two-thirds of the country thinks you don't care about their struggles.
Beating a retreat on marriage and abortion would do nothing to solve that problem. To the contrary, it would cause a rift in the Republican Party and alienate the GOP's most dependable voters - Christian conservatives, for whom these are nonnegotiable moral issues.
But a conservative campaign against poverty could enlist and energize these same voters and broaden the party's appeal beyond its conservative base.
So how can Republicans do it? Pope Francis shows the way.
One lesson from the Holy Father is that saying the right things about poverty is not enough. You have to show up. The Associated Press reports that residents of one of Buenos Aires's poorest neighborhoods, Villa 21-24, call Francis their "papa villero," or slum pope.
They recall how, as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, he "would arrive on a bus to their little chapel; how he sponsored marathons and carpentry classes, consoled single mothers and washed the feet of recovering drug addicts; how he became one of them."
If Republicans want to convince Americans that they care, they need to emulate Francis and start showing up in the barrios and the inner cities.
It's not enough for Republicans to simply vote for school choice; they need to spend time with students struggling in failing schools.
It's not enough to rail against dependency; they need to spend time helping those trapped in dependency get the skills they need to get off public assistance.