I’ll grant Matt Continetti that this is clever:
The administration would like the voting public to believe that the GOP is outside the mainstream. Co-opting centrist Republicans like Huntsman reinforces that notion. But the problem with this argument is that what is “mainstream” changes over time. As unpopular as the Republican party is at the moment, it is actually winning a lot of the debates in Washington. Cap-and-trade has little chance of passing, health care is just as dicey, Americans are concerned about Obama’s reckless accumulation of national debt, Nancy Pelosi is playing defense for the first time in her speakership, and the president has reversed himself on military commissions, abuse photos, and preventive detention. Victory or near-victory in these policy battles hasn’t redounded to the GOP’s benefit because the public still associates the Republican party with George W. Bush’s failed second term, specifically the years 2005–2006 and the recession that began in December 2007.
It takes a while for the public to catch up. When they do — and it may not happen until 2016 — they’ll go looking for someone who, in all likelihood, opposed the stimulus, cap-and-trade, and ObamaCare.
Jon Chait has a more detailed response to this than I can muster, but note that what Continetti is saying here is basically that right-wing policies aren’t unpopular, it’s just that the catastrophic consequences of right-wing policies are unpopular. I’m not really sure what the big political moral of the story is here, but the fact of the matter is that we’re left with the conclusion that conservative ideas about governance are basically unworkable. And I think that is the real problem with the right’s unwillingness to engage in a constructive way on the climate, health care, and tax debates.