David Brooks and Noam Scheiber (among others) go back and forth about the struggle between conservative reformists and traditionalists for the GOP ring of power. Brooks says that in the short term the traditionalists will win, but their inability to deliver electoral triumphs will mean that the reformists will eventually take over. Scheiber emphasizes that, because the traditionalists control the apparatus of the party, that transition is a long, long way off.
Predicting the future of a party in the aftermath of a lost presidential election is a fraught process that inevitably places too much value on the most recent disappointment, which often hinged on one or two bad bounces. Four years ago, the Democrats barely lost (and maybe wouldn't have had they responded better to the Swift Boat attacks, or had the Bin Laden video not popped up days before the election), but many people actually believed the Rovian master plan for a generation of Republican dominance was coming to fruition. The Democrats' ideas were outmoded and inferior and static. George Lakoff, the anti-Kerry, was the Moses who was going to lead the Democrats on their long trek out of the wilderness with his brilliantly simple messaging. In short, Democrats were as apoplectic as Republicans are today. As it turned out, Rove's generation of control lasted a mere two years, the Democratic idea gap was nonexistent, and the importance of Lakoff's ideas for the Democrats was completely undermined by the popularity of a nuance-spitting candidate who just happened to be a ten million times more charismatic than Kerry.
I agree with the thrust of George Packer's recent article about the decline of the conservative movement, and I think Brooks' column is quite logical, but I guess I'm not quite convinced that a Republican soul-search is a prerequisite for their return to power. For all we know, Obama could have a Clinton-esque first term and lose in 2012 to Mitch Daniels**, or some other obscure Republican, which would make all the direness of today's righties a bit overstated.
*And hopefully the last.
**Perish the thought.