Over at TAC a theory is proposed that reminds Wenatchee The Hatchet of a theory floated by D. G. Hart in his book about the history of American evangelicalism from Billy Graham to Sarah Palin--the Reagan Coalition was a one-off, non-replicable phase in which traditional conservatives, libertarians, social conservatives and what became neoconservatives had a symbolic person to rally around. But once Reagan was out of office that coalition began to fracture rapidly
Meanwhile, on the blue state side of things a comparable fracturing seems to have been happening between the centrist and progressive wings in the Democratic party, but perhaps not in the same way or to the same degree (that's not from the TAC piece, more an impression WtH has rightly or wrongly).
Meanwhile, the Religious Right, it's proposed, has sunk the odds of Republicans winning the Oval Office by spoiling what could be a more unified voting bloc, or so it reads.
...There were plenty of blue-state Republicans in the days of Goldwater and Reagan, of course, and even back then the party had distinct factions of conservatives and liberals—“Rockefeller Republicans,” as they were called. Why, then, did conservatives succeed in 1964 and 1980 but never again?
The answer lies in a development that appeared for the first time in 1988: the emergence of a distinct religious right or social-conservative candidate. That was Pat Robertson, who carried four states and won a little over 9 percent of the overall primary vote—behind Bob Dole’s nearly 20 percent and George H.W. Bush’s 68 percent. Robertson’s modest campaign, however, was like a hairline crack in the foundations of the political right. Since then in every election there has been a strong social-conservative contender in the Republican contest: Pat Buchanan in 1992 and 1996, Mike Huckabee in 2008, Rick Santorum in 2012.
The development of the religious right or social conservatives as a bloc discrete from conservatives generally proved to be the undoing of the right in Republican presidential primaries. But this differentiation into two distinct strands of conservatism, represented most of the time by competing avatars in GOP primaries, was not the result of hubris or short-sightedness on the part of religious conservatives. On the contrary, it represents a real philosophical divide that can be seen in the different emphases, attitudes, and even positions taken by social-conservative champions vis-à-vis other conservatives.
It’s not a coincidence that this ideological and political differentiation expressed itself immediately once the Reagan era had reached its end: before Reagan, an all-purpose conservative represented to the religious right—whether organized or nascent—a candidate who might give them the kind of country they wanted. Goldwater’s defeat avoided the disillusionment that victory would have brought. Reagan, however, showed that a general-purpose conservative once elected could only go so far: he appointed Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor to the Supreme Court, after all. Reagan himself did not come in for much blame, but the spiritually diffident conservatism that he and Goldwater represented—neither was more than nominally religious—was no longer enough.
Christian conservatives may no longer be the only ones who have this problem. Libertarians have had cause to celebrate in recent elections, as they too seem to have emerged as a distinct force in the GOP, with presidential standard-bearers of their own in the form of Ron Paul and Rand Paul. But here again, what this differentiation suggests is that libertarian Republicans have a vision distinct from and to some degree incompatible with—unsubstitutable for—that of other conservative Republicans. When religious conservatives came to this awareness, the results proved ruinous as far as winning the GOP presidential nomination went, for themselves and for the older Goldwater-Reagan conservatives. Will libertarians avoid the same trap?
In an irony that might be worth blogging about later, Jonathan Haidt wrote that he began to explore moral intuitions and social reasoning because he thought the liberal/progressive side kept losing by failing to sufficiently motivate its voting base.