The only way it's going to work is for the Republican Party to become a mainstream party that is linked to conservatism but that will include the more moderate elements necessary to win elections. But it appears that we are headed in the opposite direction. The Republican Party that emerges in 2009 will be, in an even greater sense, Sarah Palin's party. Let me lay out my version of the next eight years, and we'll see how it turns out:
- John McCain loses the election this year. It's about five points in the general election, maybe more, and Obama wins a big electoral college victory. At least, he picks up North Carolina, Florida, Virginia, makes big inroads in the Southwest and the Midwest.
- The GOP loses two dozen more House seats. The Dems don't quite make it to 60 seats in the Senate, but it's close.
- As Kevin Drum predicts, this turn of events makes the right feel that it wasn't negative enough against Obama. They basically reprise their Clinton-era tactics, but they fall on deaf ears as Obama turns out to be a good president and the economy slowly turns around and the GOP doesn't have congressional majorities to spend so much congressional time investigating Christmas lists and whatnot. The GOP struggles for relevance by inventing ever more outlandish Obama consipiracy theories. They become totally irrelevant to the process.
- In 2010, the GOP manages modest House gains--maybe around 10 seats, mostly among conservative Democrats (like Travis Childers in Mississippi) who were elected out of disgust for the Bush-led GOP but become more receptive to the ultra-right GOP. They actually lose some more ground in the Senate--New Hampshire is a likely target, but there might be retirements in Ohio, Arizona and Pennsylvania, and all three states feature deep Dem benches. The GOP spins this as a victory.
- The GOP nominates Sarah Palin in 2012. Some disagree with the probability of this, but she's next in line. Palin will keep a high profile, becoming a FOX News fixture, and she'll start making trips to Iowa in, I don't know, December 2008. She'll take a page from Hillary Clinton and talk about the historic nature of her candidacy. The right, always liking to take a shiv to the left, will want to deny the Democrats the historical honor of nominating the first woman candidate for president.
- Palin will lose in a McGovern-like landslide. Vast swathes of the center-right apparatus will wind up walking away from her campaign.
- After Palin loses, the Brooksian conservatives will reassume control of the GOP and push it aggressively toward the center. They start grooming a moderate Republican governor--perhaps Charlie Crist of Florida--for 2016. And the base will fall in line.