While we think we have a two party system there are really several different political interests and philosophies.  The two parties are merely structures that allows for a collation of these interests to unite to attain political power.   There are often strong differences between the coalitions within a single party.

The economic libertarians may not be able to get a majority vote to win an election. Neither can the religious fundamentalists.  But together they may be able to piece together a coalition that can get elected.  The reason that third parties rarely succeed is that unless they happen to be identified uniquely with an issue strong enough to win a voting majority on its own, they have nobody to form a coalition with and rarely play a larger role than that of a spoiler, even with the enormous funds of a Ross Perot.

The Republicans consist of five general groups.

The Libertarians believe in strong levels of personal freedom and economic freedom.  They believe in the federalist principles of the constitution and the strictly limited power of the central government.  While the Libertarian Party runs as a third party they are also a significant group within the GOP fold.

Capitalists, like the libertarians seek a high degree of economic liberty. They may remain neutral on social liberties, but Capitalists also know that there are moral requirements for a functioning free market economy.  Government’s economic function should be to facilitate the environment that best allows economic liberty to function.  They understand a true nature of capitalism: that it is not about greed, but about the competition of ideas, or as George Gilder also observed the alignment of power with knowledge.  Excess government intrusion into the market restricts the development of good ideas and separates knowledge from power – an excellent description of government regulation.

The religious fundamentalists or creationists tend to believe that moral order must be enforced to keep a stable society and favor policies that promote their values, even if it infringes on individual liberty.  Unlike the libertarian wing they will oppose gay marriage and will seek to limit a woman’s right to an abortion.  To the extent that some of the fundamentalists believe in the literal interpretation of the bible they may seek to include biblical teachings in public education and may go as far as subverting scientific principles to literally interpreted theology.

The Leviathans believe in big government, just with their hands on the wheel.  They believe that the principles of liberty can by directed from a strong central government.  They also believe that Government can harmlessly ally with certain private interests to facilitate developments better than a truly free market.  George W. Bush’s idea of compassionate conservatism asserted that private virtues could be attained with government programs.   Unfortunately, private virtues often become vices in the public sector.

Finally there are the populist Republicans.  Currently they are embodied in the Tea Party.  The opposition considers the Tea Party to be racist or prejudiced, but that is more how they want to see them than how they are.  It is easier to disregard them as evil that to consider legitimate concerns.  But populist movements are much clearer about what they do not want than what they do.    Populist movements tend to focus more on demons than solutions.  While they may focus on the dangers of excess government spending they do not necessarily share common ground on what programs should be cut.

If the Democrats ceased to exist as an opposition party the GOP would split with one wing coalescing around the libertarian capitalist persuasion and the other around the Leviathan fundamentalist wing.  The populists I believe would lean more towards to the former.

The GOP does not have to provide a united single front in order to be attacked.  The opposition just needs to define the Republicans by their most extreme or objectionable group, and it proves to be just enough to drive the independents away.

(this is a thought in process- comments are welcome)