If I were Jeb Bush or Chris Christie or Mitch Daniels, my biggest fear wouldn't be the enormity by which Barack Obama is about to humiliate Mitt Romney at the polls, although the imminent thrashing would indeed produce a certain palsied effect; nor would my deepest angst lie in the immensely intimidating challenge of having to think of something favorable to say about Mitt every day, although such a challenge would undoubtedly have me retching with blank worry every preceding night.
No, if I were Jeb or Chris or Mitch, my biggest fear, my deepest angst, would be this: Will I even have a party in 2016? -- will 2012's internal, explosive ideological fission have left me anything to work with, to build on, to even tolerate?
Michelle Goldberg, of Newsweek and The Daily Beast, provides a few answers. For starters, reports Goldberg, the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer says "he doesn't think abhorrence of Obama will be enough to juice socially conservative turnout for Romney in November," and from there, the direct quotes get even worse.
Iowa talk-radio's Steve Deace: "The biggest story that everyone in the media has missed this cycle is how frustrated and fed up the Republican Party base is with the Republican Party. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen."
And former Sam Brownback aide Jason Jones: "I just see that this election is the final battle in a long struggle between social conservatives and what we call the establishment of the party for control. This is the last time you will ever see someone like Mitt Romney even in contention for the nomination."
For some time it has been my contention that the GOP's unavoidable 2012 crackup would propel an establishmentarian revanchism, but it's beginning to look like the party's Fischers, its Deaces and Joneses, will not be denied. What remains of the GOP Establishment -- now cravenly huddled, offering moderates no hope whatsoever -- may in fact be so internally vestigial by 2013, its only escape route will be a third party.
I always believed the tea party would be forced out to form a third; now, I have my doubts. Either way, though -- whether the establishment recaptures the party, or the extremists triumphantly plant a permanent flag -- it seems inescapable that the conservative cell will split in 2013 (or thereabouts), into two distinct and formally separate ideological parties. Because Steve Deace is correct: the party's radical base cannot stand forever alienated from the party itself -- yet the moderates will also not forever roam in the barren desert.