THE UPCOMING GOP CIVIL WAR.....After every election, the losing party conducts a civil war. Sometimes it's a big war, sometimes it's a small one, but the subject is usually the same: Did we lose because we failed to appeal to enough moderates? Or did we lose because we failed to uphold our heritage and give the voters a real choice? The arguments are so similar on both sides that even the terminology is often the same. Liberals refer to their party's centrists as DINOs (Democrats In Name Only) and Republicans refer to theirs as RINOs. Republican conservative stalwarts say, "If the choice is between a Democrat and a Democrat-lite, the public will choose the real thing every time." Switch the party affiliation and you get the same thing from liberal Democrats.
So what happens this time around? It's a little hard to keep this in mind at this point, but John McCain was widely considered the most electable Republican this year because of his mavericky politics and appeal to independents. He had moderate cred on immigration, campaign finance reform, and judicial nominees, and though he had a conservative voting record he had never been a committed culture warrior. If you thought that moving toward the center was the right strategy for the Republican Party after eight years of George Bush, McCain was your man.
So if he loses, what happens? Conservatives will have the upper hand, no? We tried a moderate, they'll say, and he crashed and burned. After all, if the choice is between a Democrat and a Democrat-lite etc. etc.
And that in turn suggests that instead of undergoing a long, slow moderation of their positions after this year's election, they'll go in the other direction. Their argument will be simple and compelling: the McCain strategy didn't work. The country is hungering for real conservatism, and that's the only way we can win. Hell, the only thing that even gave McCain a chance this year was his selection of Sarah Palin, the only real conservative on the ticket.
So this suggests an eye-popping state of affairs: after eight years of George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Karl Rove making them into the most unpopular party in recent history, the GOP will decide that the best response to this is to become even more conservative. I can hardly wait to see how this plays out.