Interesting post from Chris Orr on the internal dynamics inside the Republican caucus:
Take the House. John Boehner knows that he’s exceedingly unlikely to become Speaker in the foreseeble future, and that if the opportunity somehow arises, it will be due to events beyond his control–an economic collapse, a terrorist attack, etc. On a fundamental level, he’s not competing with Nancy Pelosi, but with Eric Cantor and Mike Pence and any other party rivals eager to displace him. As in a contested primary, the dynamic generally pushes away from the center, but here particularly so, because a) the moderate wing of the House GOP has basically ceased to exist; and b) none of these guys is likely to be in a position to influence Democratic legislation in any substantial way any time soon. Everyone tries to outflank everyone else to the right–zero votes on any Obama-supported bill! a hyperconservative budget with no numbers! a hyperconservative budget with made-up numbers!–because there’s no obvious, non-heretical way to establish yourself as a player otherwise. Denied the opportunity to govern (by their own intransigence as much as by the size of the Democratic majority), they have nothing to do but campaign 24/7.
I think this contains a lot of wisdom. That said, I do recall reading somewhat similar things when Nancy Pelosi took over as Democratic leader in the wake of the 2002 midterms. Democrats were losing seats. Those losses were reducing the caucus to only its safest and most liberal seats. Thus more liberal members were rising in the leadership. But this would lead only to the party losing more and more seats and thus becoming ever more marginal and left-wing.
And yet somehow Pelosi became Speaker in January of 2007.
Which is to say that while I think these dynamics are real, one should avoid the Beltway temptation to overstate the importance of ideology in determining election results and avoid the human temptation to extrapolate in straight lines. Big political changes can happen over the course of a couple of elections, especially during times when big dramatic events are happening in the real world.