Katie Pavlich: 'There Aren't as Many Conservatives in the Country as We Thought'

The group pointed to leaders like Carly Fiorina, Josh Hawley and Sasse in particular as reasons for optimism.

"These are some good people, and they're on our team," Benson said.

The panelists pointed to one area where Republicans had only themselves to blame for the current mess: making promises they knew they couldn't keep.

Take ObamaCare. How many GOP hopefuls campaigned on repealing the serially flawed legislation? Yet without controlling the White House, there was nothing a senator or congressman could do about it.

That left voters seething.

In other ways, the voters themselves let the GOP down. Pavlich said the Republican Party of old would never have accepted a candidate like Trump, whose positions on health care, free speech and trade sound downright progressive.

"We used to hold our elected officials to a higher standard," she said.

The rise of Trump, whose statements on women and minorities have made him a laughingstock in many quarters, also undid eight years of outreach by Republican officials. Those groups are critical to the party's future success.

"Now, it's been completely wiped out," she said.