First, who are these “moderates” Sullivan imagines to be laying low, waiting to reassert their dominance of the party? (Sure, there’s Jeb Bush and maybe Chris Christie, though it’s a bit of a stretch to call either of them “moderate.”) Second, when is the last time that logic governed the GOP? The mainstream of today’s Republican Party is the Grover Norquist/Tea Party faction. If that weren’t true, it would have been feasible for Mitt Romney to win his party’s nomination without undergoing ideological plastic surgery on a Michael Jackson scale. It would have also been possible for the former Massachusetts governor to nudge himself back toward the center in the general election, rather than hitching his wagon to Ryanomics and catering to the base.
My point is more about the chastened Republicans than the "moderate" ones, most of whom have, indeed, been purged. I cited Jim DeMint – arguably the Tea Party's Congressional leader – acknowledging last week that an Obama victory would mean they would have to give on taxes, and thereby open up the whole tax reform possibility.
I think Americans want a fiscal compromise on a sane, Bowles-Simpson line. And radical tax reform is an area of common ground. That kind of deal is normally only possible in a second term, when the president is not going to get political capital for it, and if it is bipartisan, which was the idea behind Bowles-Simpson as well (before Ryan destroyed it). And if Obama wins big, and the Democrats even gain (I know, plenty can change between now and November 9), the impact will be intense. If Paul Ryan is humiliated as a candidate even in his home state, there will be a certain poignancy to it all. I think Romney picked Ryan in part to insulate himself from the blame of defeat for being too moderate. For which, if he loses, we should thank him.
And on immigration, all you need is a few Republicans to absorb the lesson of alienating the critical Latino constituency. If Jeb Bush and Karl Rove came out for a deal, and they both support one, politics change. In other words, as I wrote, this is about the shift in thinking, a change in leverage after an election, not before it. Elections can concentrate the mind. The GOP loves to win and if it sees its current path is doomed, the fever, in Obama's metaphor, might break.
But look: I may be wrong. It took several elections before Britain's Labour party changed under Thatcher to give us Blair, or for Blair to give us Cameron, a pro-gay, anti-climate change Tory supporter of socialized medicine. It may not happen. But as the campaign continues, the impact of a disappointing night for the GOP could be big.
More responses to the piece to come through the day and we'll do a live-chat this week as well.