The Republican Party is suffering from a classic problem, climbing the ladder of success only to find that it is leaning against the wrong wall. The Party worked for many years to create a base of supporters who would accept a rigid right wing ideology as part of their culture. The strategy has been very successful in the Southern States and has taken hold to some extent in many other parts of the Country. This Republican base amounts to the last 22% of Americans who still support President Bush. Unfazed by the dramatic economic and political consequences of the last eight years, they also make up the lions share of the 64% of all Republicans who want ultra-conservative Sarah Palin as their 2012 Presidential nominee, a desire that is likely shared by 100% of all Democrats. The GOP has successfully convinced them that the political center is really the left, and that this imaginary left is the enemy of God and social order. That being the case, any policies supported by the "left" would be immoral by default.
Having been soundly rejected by the electorate, the Republican Party is left to dress its wounds and develop strategies for 2012. During this election cycle the voters sent a clear signal that political moderation is in order. As a result some GOP pragmatists are signalling a willingness to accept some level of bipartisanship and move somewhat reluctantly towards the center. The problem they will soon encounter is that they have so effectively trained their base to be extremist that they will reject any move towards ideological moderation. Southern Republicans in Congress may face losing to more conservative challengers in the next primaries should they move towards the center, the only likely salvation for the party as a whole.
The Grand Old Party is in a "catch 22" situation. If they moderate their ideological positions it will get them some desperately needed mainstream support but it will infuriate their base. If they double down on their conservative positions they solidify their base but move farther from the new political mainstream, particularly the youth vote. I suspect we will hear the Party leaders invoke the name of Ronald Reagan and proclaim that they intend to return to the conservatives values of his era. As the Country moves forward, their fateful strategy will be to move forward by going backwards 25 years. Their effectiveness in creating an extremist base is proving to be a bittersweet success.