“We did not just lose our majority … we lost our way,” Indiana Republican Representative Mike Pence told the diminished House Republican Caucus Thursday as he urged them to elect him as their new leader. “We are in the wilderness because we walked away from the limited-government principles that minted the Republican Congress.”

Running as a reformer who argued that Congressional Republicans lost majorities in the House and Senate November 7 because they became associated in the eyes of voters with fiscal irresponsibilty and ethical laxity, Pence campaigned for the leadership as a conscience conservative. He said it was time for the caucus to disassociate itself from the compromised image it obtained under the leadership of disgraced former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and those who took over for DeLay when the Texan fled the House.

Pence’s colleagues were not impressed.

By an overwhelming margin, they chose to remain in the wilderness.

By a 168-27 vote, GOP caucus members made the outgoing majority leader, Ohioan John Boehner, the minority leader in the next Congress. Boehner, who is perhaps best known for his bumbling approach to the scandal involving former Florida Representative Mark Foley and House pages — in which he appeared, at one point, to indict outgoing Speaker Dennis Hastert — and for his backroom approach to budgeting, will keep a Tom DeLay face on the caucus.

Boehner’s No. 2, Missouri’s Roy Blunt, a DeLay lieutenant who has been associated with every major scandal to hit the House Republican Caucus in recent years, was retained as caucus whip by a vote of 147-57 over Arizona conservative Rep. John Shadegg, who like Pence ran as a reformer.