Jack Balkin has an interesting post about the possibility of 2008 being a watershed election, and I agree with several of his points. Certainly, there was always an obvious contradiction between the Rove/Bush strategy to create a dominant Republican coalition and their base-mobilizing, 50%+1 government strategy, and it’s now clear that the chance of long-term national GOP dominance (which, like Rove’s reputation for being a political genius, was always overblown in any case) has vanished. And, just as certainly, Bush’s failures in office have titled the balance in favor of the Democratic coalition.
But with respect to Balkin’s implication that Bush has fundamentally “destroyed” the current GOP coalition, though, I just don’t see it. The current geographical and ideological makeup of the GOP coalition hasn’t become inherently non-viable, and outside the margins the components aren’t ripe to be permanently picked off by the Democrats. And while it’s true that the Republican primary seems to have opened up major divisions between cultural reactionaries and fiscal reactionaries, I think this is largely illusory. Essentially, it’s just the product of peculiar circumstances: the plain-vanilla Southern conservative who seemed like the frontrunner lost a Senate election with a racial slur thrown in, and the plain-vanilla Southern conservative who contested the primary seems to be using Weekend at Bernie’s as a campaign manual. Hence, the primary is being seriously fought between a recent convert to Reaganism and other candidates with little crossover appeal between the party’s factions. But I seem little reason to believe — especially if there’s Democratic administration with its likely unifying effect — that a better P.-V. S.C. couldn’t unite the party and present a strong challenge in 2012. While the Democrats may make some geographic inroads — especially in the Mountain West — I think that the current general geographic and ideological structure of the party system is likely to persist for a while.