We may be standing at the threshold of the future of the Republican Party. The 2012 election is likely to have repercussions on the political landscape and, in particular, that of the Republican Party and its ideological stances for many years to come.

The current field of contenders for the Republican Party’s ticket for the White House is both incredibly diverse and somewhat lacking to many Republicans. Many different types of conservatives are vying for the nomination, but none of them seem to be what the majority of Republicans are looking for or would be satisfied with. This leaves open the likelihood that there will be a lot of division in the Republican Party after the nominee is selected.

With this kind of schism in the party, the outcome of the election might have substantial consequences for what types of candidates do well in future Republican primaries and elections. Already, there is a battle between the forces of the far right and the moderates inside of the party. Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul, to a certain extent, all represent a more moderate and compromising form of the Republican Party. Those who represent the more socially conservative far right would include Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich to an extent. At the moment, Romney and Gingrich seem to be battling it out for the top spot in the upcoming Iowa Caucus.

Considering the trend of previous presidential elections, the Republican who wins in Iowa isn’t necessarily destined to win the primary. But winning the primary is crucially important, because it is that person who will have to face down incumbent President Barack Obama in the general election. And it is the result of the general election that might influence the identity of the Republican Party for years to come.

Let’s say, hypothetically, that Romney is chosen as the head of the Republican ticket for the general election. It’s Nov. 6, 2012, and the results are in: Romney is the winner. As he steps up to the role of president, many of the Republicans who opposed his nomination might stop and reconsider their denouncement of him. Romney, for all of his compromising and moderate positions, has just taken back the White House for the Republican Party. Perhaps, Republicans might think to themselves, it is moderate candidates and compromise that will guarantee the party’s future success.

However, let’s say that the results go in the opposite direction: Romney is defeated and Obama is triumphant and guaranteed four more years in office. Many Republicans might be quick to blame the loss on Romney’s moderate stances. RINO (Republican In Name Only) is how he might come to be referred. Many on the right will begin arguing that, in order to win, the Republicans must abandon compromise and go farther to the right, once again embracing social conservatism. As a result, those like Romney and Huntsman will be ignored in future elections, and more radical candidates like Bachmann and Santorum will have far more success.

Speaking of Bachmann and Santorum, if one of them won the primary and went on to win the general election, we would likely see the same result. Moderates would be denounced as frauds and traitors, and the party would swing farther to the right in terms of its policy proposals and ideology. But, assuming that one of them won the primary and then went on to lose the general election, we would probably see a much more subdued and moderate party in the 2014 and 2016 elections. It will be argued that going too far to the right and embracing radical candidates and the religious right is what doomed the party in 2012. As a result, those like Bachmann, Santorum and even Gingrich will be seen as a fringe element to be ignored in the party.

This is why this one election is so crucial for the future of the Republicans and the future of the United States. It will be the defining moment and the deciding factor on what kinds of candidates the Republicans will offer up for years to come. If the Republicans fail to retake the presidency this time around, then what will the 2016 election look like? Will it have a face like Santorum or one like Huntsman? We might begin finding out in Iowa on Jan. 3.

 

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