Beliefnet's Steve Waldman makes a pretty decent case on why it would be premature to write Sarah Palin off for the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination in Why I'm Bullish on Sarah Palin's ProspectsHuffington Post 07/15/09. He writes (emphasis in original):
Religoius [sic] conservatives will be as important if not more so in the 2012 Republican primaries. Evangleicals acocunted for a bigger percentage of John McCain's general election vote than of George Bush's meaning that these voters have become amore central part of the party coalition. Two of the three early states (Iowa and South Carolina) have large evangelical populations, the third (New Hampshire) liking "mavericky" types.
Rick Pearlstein writes ont he same topic in Beyond the Palin 07/10/09 (07/20/09 issue). He describes the current state of the tension between the country club and Christianist wings of the Republican Party. He perceives the tensions between the two wings to be increasing:
The conservative intellectuals [the country club wing] once were able to work together more effectively with the conservative unwashed [the fundis]. Now, more and more, their recent irritation renders them akin to the Stalinist commissars mocked by poet Bertolt -Brecht, who asked if they might "dissolve the people/And elect another." The bargain the right has offered the downwardly mobile, culturally insecure traditionalist - give us your votes, and we will give you existential certitudes in a world that seems somehow to have gone crazy - is looking less like good politics all the time.
He may be right. But various political analysts have been predicting that the alliance between the Wall Street and Main Street wings of the Party will soon break down for nearly three decades now. And it hasn't happened yet.
Here is Thomas Edsall, whose record of political analysis has been highly dubious, writing in The Political ImpasseNew York Review of Books 03/26/1987 (behind subscription):
The schisms facing the Republicans in the post-Reagan years appear likely to be at least as serious [as those of the Democrats]. The conservative wing of the GOP is full of discontent with Reagan but it has been unable to coalesce around a candidate, and it has wavered at various times between Representative Jack Kemp, Patrick J. Buchanan, and the television evangelist Pat Robertson. Vice President George Bush is running into increasing difficulty as he attempts to become an ecumenical nominee supported by both Reagan conservatives and by the GOP's moderate, East Coast faction. Senator Robert Dole, in turn, is trying to revive the Taft wing of the Republican party, for which the principal issue is the danger of the federal deficit, the same deficit that has made the Reagan economic and military program possible. Dole seeks, moreover, to expand his constituency with support for such liberal programs as food stamps and aid to the handicapped, as well as for such right-of-center causes as opposition to abortion and to gun control, and conservative appointments to the federal bench.
... the continuing dependence on business money has damaged Republican efforts to promote a more populist image.
... Another Republican alliance coming under strain is that between the country-club Republicans who have controlled the party organizations in most states, and the increasingly restless conservative Christian political community. This alliance has been of prime importance to the GOP: between 1976 and 1984, white fundamentalist Christians accounted for a shift of at least eight million votes to Republican candidates, according to The New York Times–CBS polls. No other single group in those years did more to create a strong Republican coalition.
Conservative Christian political leaders, including Pat Robertson, have, however, become increasingly intent on gaining direct political power. They are sponsoring campaigns to take over numerous state and local Republican party organizations, and running their own candidates in GOP primaries. For example, in Indiana in 1986, fundamentalist Christian candidates defeated candidates backed by the party for Republican nominations in two congressional districts, severely embarrassing one of the strongest state Republican parties in the country. Similarly, fights between Christian groups and party regulars occurred in Republican congressional contests in South Carolina and Tennessee. In three out of four of these districts, the Republican would normally have been favored to win. In fact, Democrats won all four districts. Republican party regulars, dismayed by such activities, are having increasing difficulty maintaining control over nominations.
The GOP is in the midst of a balancing act, trying to hold together a great many divergent groups—including well-to-do East Coast Protestants, anticommunist Asian and Hispanic refugees, southern rednecks drawn to the hard right views of Jesse Helms, the new entrepreneurs of Wall Street and Silicon Valley, urban Catholics, embattled farmers, and evangelical Baptists. For the Republicans the arms-for-hostages scandal could not have emerged at a worse time—just when they were beginning to plan for the 1988 elections. No matter what the political atmosphere may be less than two years from now, the scandal has impaired Reagan's ability to hold together the GOP coalition by his personal popularity while waiting for a successor to emerge. The controversy has also clearly damaged the ability of the Republican party to recruit strong candidates for 1988. And it threatens to weaken the ability of the three Republican party committees to continue to raise the vast amounts of money useful in smoothing over ideological and economic conflicts within the Republican hierarchy. [my emphasis]
Obama's team is on the right track in highlighting the extent to which the Republican Party is in reality led by Rush Limbaugh and other radio ranters. If there is a well-hidden faction of moderates within the Republicans Party, let them show themselves by lining up clearly against the Christianists on an issue of importance. The country club Republicans are likely to be riding the Christianist tiger for quite a while yet.