On the subject of conservative meltdown, Vernon Lee makes a good point: what looks like a preordained crisis is really a factor of contingency. As much as I think that modern movement conservatism is unworkable and thus destined to find itself in crisis when forced to govern, Vernon's right that the "perfect storm" tearing through the conservative movement and its pet political party may appear to have been easier to forecast than it actually was. Or as Vernon puts it, "the obituaries written about the losers will retroactively cast them as inevitable losers."
One big X-factor is the possibly candidacy of Fred Thompson. He inspires the yearnings of Republicans precisely because he seems most likely to extend and renew the Dubya-era of a solid coalition between sociocons, paleocons, and fiscal (cough cough) conservatives.I'm still quite flummoxed as to what is really "the most likely outcome" -- I think we're watching a giant experiment in progress, a chance for primary voters to make a substantive decision about the direction of their party for the first time in decades. But you can see why they might choose Thompson, if they care for the unity of the conservative movement. It's a movement that maybe needs an actor at its head to pull off the illusion that all its many demands can be reconciled among themselves and then sold without dilution to the American public at large. It needs an actor to bring life to the conceit that conservatives can be both a distinct, even persecuted identity group, and the natural majority. It needs an actor to turn a record of failure into an image of success. It needs an actor to make the magic happen.
If Fred Thompson enters the field and wins the nomination, it's possible that this moment of crisis in the Republican party's coalition will quickly fade into distant memory. A Giuliani primary win likely be read as a stake driven through the heart of movement conservatism, and a chance to reset the playing field. A Romney nomination - which now seems the most likely outcome - will solidify the meme of desperate calculation.