Chris Plante, a talk-show host on local radio station WMAL, was talking this morning about the rage being expressed by people lately at McCain/Palin rallies. People had a bunch of different reactions to the question, but none of them really fixed on the root of all the anger. The root is something at the very foundation of the GOP, especially in its Goldwater/Reagan Revolution version.
Democrats get confused when they look at the GOP because they expect it to be a reflection of their own party: a combination of power blocs that have divergent interests but similar goals - to get more money and/or political power. That's not what the modern GOP is. That's what the Bob Taft/Ike/"Rockefeller Republican"/RINO faction of the party was and is, much like the old "wet" Tories in Canada or the pre-Thatcher Tories in England. Goldwater and Reagan (with a big assist from William F. Buckley) changed all that. Suddenly there was a large and growing faction of libertarians in the GOP, joined by disaffected religious types who found the Democratic party increasingly hostile starting in the 1970s. (These actually come in two flavors - religious libertarians who want the government to fuck off and quit messing with their kids' education, and religious conservatives who want to run the government so it does what they want. There's some overlap between the two, of course, but they aren't the same.) You also started seeing Main Street business owners coming back to the GOP, gun owners pissed off at the rampant gun-control advocacy of the Democrats...and before you knew it, Jimmy Carter's maladroit handling of the Iranian Revolution and the energy crisis of the 1970s gave the GOP a rallying point.
At that point, Reagan had a powerful weapon at his disposal. In place of Carter's malaise and "misery index", he offered a positive vision of smaller government, a stronger military, and greater opportunity. The subtext, expressed in his question "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" touched a nerve. Voters may not have been crazy about the old actor, but they sure as shit didn't want another four years of Jimmy Carter. And thus the modern GOP was born: a party whose main ambition was to rid America of the progressive (sic) burden that had been strapped to the backs of American taxpayers since the New Deal came in with FDR in the 1930s. A noyaux whose hot button issues were all in opposition to the increasingly radical left agenda of the Democratic Party. Pat Buchanan once described it as a "culture war", but this again is an oversimplification; there are factions of the GOP that are indifferent or hostile to the cultural traditionalists' agenda.
Probably the best way to identify factions within the GOP is to look at prominent individuals in the party and see what they're best known for. Fiscal conservatives tend to rally around Senator Tom Coburn or Representative Jeb Hensarling; the more radical of these, of course, are down with the Ron Paul R(EVOL)ution. Small-government radicals were once led by Newt Gingrich; he was succeeded by Tom DeLay, who was more of a pragmatist without any real ideology aside from getting and keeping power. And this, off-topic though it seems, is and has been John McCain's problem. He's never really led a faction of his own; now and again he pulls Republicans along with him to engineer "bipartisan" agreements with Democrats that tend to enrage one or another major faction within the party, but there is no identifiable McCain faction in the party because he has no ideology aside from getting Washington's business done with as little waste and corruption as possible. It was once said of him that his most reliable supporters were the Washington press corps, which was certainly something that would endear him to most members of the GOP. [/sarc]
So we come to the current campaign. Despite the multiple advantages of a cratering economy (thanks mainly to Democrats engineering the subprime loan mess), an unpopular president, and a candidate whose own party regards him as the least bad option, Barack Obamessiah (PBUH) can't seem to close the deal and get the humungous majority you'd think he'd have racked up by now. (Maybe because we're all racist crackers, LOL) Yet, somehow, despite all the huffing and puffing by and the nutroots about how old and out of touch Crazy Uncle John is -oh wait, that was the Obama campaign, sorry- and how Governor Palin is some kind of gun-crazed snowbilly breeder utterly unfit for the lightweight job of VP, they're still not managing to put Obama even close to the 15% margin the media once bragged they were worth. I submit to you that the reason he hasn't closed the deal is because as Americans learn more about Senator Obama and his views, the more segments of the Republican noyaux realize that no matter how much they loathe John McCain, he's still better than that.
This doesn't mean that there's going to be a big surge of love and support for Senator McCain in the next couple of weeks. (Governor Palin, yeah, because she's generally regarded as the reincarnation of Ronald Reagan, this time in bulldog hockey-mom point-guard flesh.) On Election Day, however, despite their distaste for the GOP candidate, the people that make up the GOP will head for the polls and resolutely vote "against". Because that's the kind of people we are.