Douthat considers where it leads:
[T]he strategy that Republicans choose today doesn’t only shape the landscape for 2014: It has consequences for the Republicans’ broader position and brand identity, and for how everything from ongoing gubernatorial campaigns to the ’16 presidential election plays out. The G.O.P.’s problem at the moment is that it’s a congressional party with no clear ability to win presidential-level majorities. In that context, a faction that’s trying to gain control of the party — as the right’s populists currently are — should be demonstrating why its preferred approach and preferred policies are winning ones, and why a more populist turn can actually help Republicans avoid a replay of 2012 in 2016 and beyond.
But the strategy that the populists are currently pursuing — narrowing the definition of True Conservatism to a point where tactics rather than ideology are the only working litmus test, pursuing those tactics even when they put conservatives squarely on the wrong side of public opinion, and then denouncing any alternative approach as a sell-out that justifies bolting for a third party — is likely to deliver one of two alternatives instead: Either a successful populist/Tea Party takeover, à la Goldwater in ’64, that leaves the party in no position to actually contest a national election and secures Obama’s legacy instead, or a backlash that elevates a Republican nominee who runs against Congressional conservatives, à la George W. Bush in 2000, and in the process re-empowers all the interest groups that the populists detest.
My bet is on a Goldwater moment. Meep meep.