I need more time to explore this idea (and I will after the election), but I want to post a brief summary in advance. The idea?
The GOP is being reborn, before our eyes, as a niche party.
As many have noted, there is a crackup coming. The Republican party is splintering and the grand Reagan coalition of social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and foreign policy hawks is coming apart at the seams. The reasons for this all lie in the abject incompetence of the Bush administration.
What will be the result of this splintering?
At first, niche status as the forces of Palinism continue to dominate the GOP. Eventually, a third party (at first of the mind, eventually, in practice) will splinter off.
I don’t know who will retain the mantle of true Republican (they will both claim it) but the two parties will look like this:
The schism will be inflamed by the deep racial, nativist biases that have long lurked, sometimes at the surface, within the heart of the GOP. The practical result will be a long period out of power for this new, niche party.
Now, this analysis assumes a win by Barack Obama. Obviously, we are in for a difficult time in the next four years. These difficulties will be compounded immeasurably by the unwillingness of a fairly large segment of Americans (the Palin party) to accept his presidency. Hatred and ugliness will dominate their politics. That said, an Obama win cannot be taken for granted, so this summary is a kind of “what-if” document to be fully explored after the election.
But even if McCain somehow wins, the die is cast. This schism is breaking apart the Reagan coalition and will destroy the Republican party, casting it into permanent niche status. It is simply a matter of demographics and time. Once the split finally occurs, there may be a chance for an open, optimistic center-right conservatism to rise again.
P.S. There is one man who could delay the unravelling. His name is David Petraeus (though I am not convinced that he wouldn’t run as a Democrat).