It doesn't take Conventional Wisdom to see that the Republican Party brand is in trouble. Conservatives are facing the wrath of the faithful by jumping ship and endorsing Barack Obama and yet they do it any way. This problem is compounded by the splits in the Republican party rapidly becoming major fissures. It has been a coalition between "Evanagelical" conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and lately "Neo-Cons" who favor exporting democracy to nations of interest whether they like it or not. These three groups really have nothing in common. The evangelical's aren't really dramatically concerned with fiscal policy unless it greatly disrupts their own lives (see recent events) and care little about foreign adventurism. The fiscal conservatives have little or no interest in social policy and see foreign wars as a huge expense. And the neo-cons have no interest at all in social policy and see the fiscal conservatives as being in their way to being able to finance their military expeditions. Add to this the corporate conservatives whose world view can be wrapped up in "What's good for IBM is good for America" and it makes you wonder how they've survived as a group this long.
So where can they go from here? As I see it, there are three possibilities...
The first is they do nothing. Frankly, continuing with the damaged goods that the party has become will only spell greater failure for the GOP in 2010 and 2012 barring a substantial meltdown in an Obama administration. That the best they can hope for in this scenario is that the Democrats screw up even worse than the Republicans. Their only other hope is that a newly Democratic President and Congress push heavily liberal policy to at least give them something to fight against while they try to figure out what to fight for. This does nothing to repair party rifts and likely only delays an eventual collapse. Obviously, this path is a complete failure. Such a significant failure that it brings the risk of the Republican Party becoming a regional party spread only through the southeast and rural areas of the prairie states.
The second would be a reprise of the 1994 Republican Revolution. Their greatest obstacle here is that they've already done this trick once and look at what it led to just a decade later. And right after that particular road-bump would be the lack of Republicans with sufficient recognition and reputation to lead it. Newt Gingrich led the last Republican Revolution and the way he was tarred and feathered means that any leader a new Republican Revolution might have would need a stirling reputation and broad-based support within the party to prevent their movement from derailing just like the last Republican Revolution. And I'm not sure that the Republicans really have a sufficiently charismatic leader that could actually pull it off. It's a possible tack, and frankly I suspect it's the most likely approach the Republicans will choose with or without a qualified leader for it, the problem is that I don't think it will sell. There's been a few names tossed around as a leader for this kind of approach including Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and even Sarah Palin but given that none of them have much in the way of support within their own party, they'll have significant hurdles towards uniting the party without quite a few jumping ship. An evangelical leadership would likely have the same results of turning the Republicans into a regional or minor party. And a fiscal conservative leader will never be fully trusted or accepted by the evangelical part of their base.
That's why I think there's a third possibility, and namely that's the path of the Democratic party in 1948. Finding that their party contained irreconcilable differences, the Democrats walked away from each other and founded a separate Democratic party with a different platform altogether. I think it's quite possible (albeit unlikely) that the Republicans may have their own split with those "old time small government" Republicans breaking off to form their own Republican party with just enough social populism to attract moderates from the Democratic party. The irony here is that those Southern voters that broke off from the Democrats to form the Dixiecrats and who were later subsumed into the Republican party are pretty much the same voting bloc that is causing such problems for the Republican party now. Left to their own devices in a deflated "old" Republican party lacking the credibility their more moderate and fiscally responsible former members brought to the table, their numbers would dwindle until they could work their way into one party or the other in an attempt to bring their social agenda to the fore again.
It is this third option that has me wondering if it's an actual possibility. Unburdened by their need to pander to the conservative Christian base and relieved of their current Neo-Con leadership, a renewed Republican party could espouse their former virtues of smaller government, balanced budgets, states rights (including their right to allow gay marriage or at least civil unions), heightened trade, limited global intervention only when absolutely called for, and at the same time put behind their troublesome past (read Bush I & II). A reborn Republican party with a moderate viewpoint on social issues and in favor of fiscal conservatism would bring the party much more in line with its "party of Lincoln" tagline. Throw in being in favor of limited regulation of the economy and there's little to argue with. Such a party could be attractively packaged to many moderate Democrats and would likely see a number of folks cross over from Democrat to this "New Republican" party. It would even wipe the slates for "former Republicans" who could easily stand up and say that they left their own party when they felt it no longer represented them and their constituents. After dumping their own far-right wing and winning moderates from the Democrats, they could point to either of the other parties as "extremists"... and they might even be right.
And if that was the party that was formed, what is left for the Democratic party to stand for? That's really the thing that has me stumped. How do you run against balanced budgets? Or a better trade balance? And the "old Republican" party would be for what... invading other countries and installing religion in government? The party of Pat Buchanan and Sarah Palin.
So in this scenario, we'd have an effectively moderate Republican party, a leaner Democratic party that leans farther to the left without as many of its own moderates to balance it, and the remnants of the old Republican party made up of fiscally irresponsible Neo-Cons and "Evangelical Christians". Three "major" parties but with a much more realistically "big tent" GOP that can actually draw a large moderate voter bloc.
Ah well, just my musings on the situation so please forgive me if I am off target on this. Right now I'm just curious about the idea and watching the writings and speeches of the conservatives unhappy with the Republican party to see what their plans are. But like I said before, I don't think it's likely to happen... just possible.
And in the interest of full disclosure, I'm a Georgia Democrat and have voted pretty much purely Democrat for about 20 years.