Conservatism in Mississippi faces a rocky and critically defining period ahead after the GOP Senate primary bloodbath.

There are many good people - red, yellow, black and white, tea party and establishment - in Mississippi who are concerned about better public policy that will involve, among other things, - and most importantly - smaller, limited government.

If anybody can bring us together, Thad can. He's spent his entire career building and tending relationships like a master rose gardener. But the party must step up, too.

The next six years will shape the future of America, and Mississippi needs to be a part, for the sake of our Republic.

We will not get into the train wreck of the Cochran campaign now, but some remarkable people did some remarkable things over the last two weeks to pull off a remarkable win.

Without marching orders, individual Mississippians just went to work for Thad, from Oxford to Madison to the Coast, and gradually the heavy artillery arrived with reinforcements.

Strong leadership from the top down matters now more than ever. There's no place for the cowardly because somebody is going to have to pick up the pieces and put the party back together with more diversity.

With an unusual assist from African-American voters and other Democrats who feared the extremes of his opponent, Sen. Thad Cochran beat back a spirited challenge from state Sen. Chris McDaniel, triumphing in a Republican run-off and defeating the tea party, where the movement's hopes were brightest.

McDaniel, speaking in Hattiesburg, was angry and it showed. "There is something a bit strange, there is something a bit unusual about a Republican primary that's decided by liberal Democrats," he said.

He accused Cochran of abandoning the conservative movement, as he and his supporters have all along.

"So much for principles," he said.

We wonder what makes Mr. McDaniel believe African-Americans and other Democrats can't be principled as well.

It was an extraordinary end to a wild campaign, with Republicans standing up for the rights of black Democrats, and with cash-rich national tea party groups crying foul in defeat.

The bitter gush of fury and vitriol from McDaniel supporters after the defeat was, no doubt, brought on by Mr. McDaniel himself with the combative post-election speech where he refused to concede.

The right thing was to concede and start working for the good of our state and our nation, given such a wide margin of loss.

Meanwhile, his supporters continue to alienate voters, as if a Democrat's vote is dirty or unacceptable, not good enough.

We are done with those days. A vote is a vote. Good for Sen. Cochran for reaching out to Democrats.

Mr. Cochran is more likely to bring about change in Washington with that tone than one advocating the establishment of a pure race or party with a litmus test. Stick to public policy and get the government out of our lives.

Last Tuesday, Democratic voters trickled out of the Court Street United Methodist Church in downtown Hattiesburg, saying they had voted for a Republican for the first time in their lives - Thad Cochran.

So we have some Mississippians who voted Republican for the first time in their lives. So they vote once. Then it's twice in November.

All of a sudden, they're comfortable in their new shoes and the GOP is growing. Pro-life, like-minded African Americans are flocking in droves, embracing smaller, limited government and focused on ending the destructive cycle of poverty.

McDaniel supporters could simply try being gracious in defeat - and some reasonable and moderate supporters like Madison's Russ Latino have.

"Be advised though that there is a growing sentiment among conservatives that there isn't much of a distinction between the moderate Republican and the Democrat and that considerations like majorities aren't as compelling as they once were where Republicans have squandered majorities in the past," wrote our sometime op-ed columnist Latino to his friends who supported Sen. Cochran. "This sentiment is compounded when you win an election with what is at least perceived of as Democrat messaging."

He goes on to close: "All of this leads to great consternation over the general election. If you don't want us to be a part of your party, why should we vote for you? Understand, this is not a threat on my part.

"I want you to 'get' the level of anger and frustration and seriously consider the impact of telling people like me to go fly a kite. It hasn't been everyone, but now is not the time for Cochran supporters to be glib.

"I said yesterday, and I meant it, that the winning candidate needed to exercise humility in victory. I also think the winning candidate needs to prove that he still has some fight left in him and wants to represent the conservative base of his party. It won't be an easy sell. I'm not trying to start a debate. Just a dialogue."

What if Mr. McDaniel would have used similar words election night? But instead, he spit in Thad Cochran's face, evoking equally angry responses from the "establishment."

Mr. Cochran can reach out to those reasonable voices like Latino who are willing to engage in dialogue, but Mr. McDaniel is going to have to be among the willing in order to budge the needle.

Chasing away traditional Democrats is wrong and morally corrupt. Liberty is about the freedom to choose.

We still can't get over the hypocrisy of the McDaniel camp. It's more like selective liberty and selective memory.

For example, Pat Bruce, chairman of the Madison County Conservative Coalition (formerly the Madison County Tea Party) is a former Democrat, having worked on the campaign of Democrat Sen. John C. Stennis in the 1970s.

She apparently saw the light. Why couldn't traditional Democrats Tuesday?

Mr. McDaniel can relate to seeing the light. He voted in the Democratic primary in 2003, presumably for Ronnie Musgrove and not for Haley Barbour.

Should McDaniel and Bruce be disqualified because they fail the purity test? Of course not.

Brighter days lie ahead for Mississippi and for our great Republic if we can all work together.

But, THE SHOUTING MUST STOP! Let the dialogue begin.

Yet more than a week after the election, nerves still haven't settled, Mr. McDaniel is nowhere near opening a dialogue and he's masquerading as the nominee when he lost the election by 7,000 votes in a continuing kook-fest that includes a write-in campaign.

Gov. Phil Bryant and Mississippi GOP Chairman Joe Nosef have the power to end this. The vacuum created by the party apparatus not closing ranks and enforcing very basic management rules is being filled by the insane, lunatic fringe spewing the most vile comments and bizarre conspiracy theories ever seen in modern Mississippi politics.

The situation is completely out of control. For the sake and dignity of our beloved Mississippi and our Republic, end this nightmare swiftly.