Pragmatic parties (and candidates) adjust their message and position to meet the salient interests of voters in order to gain a majority (or plurality) of those voters and win the election. Parties of Principle do not yield on their positions regardless of the mood and demand of voters and therefore only win when and if their hard position actually fits the current concerns of the electorate.
The 2008 election was lost by the republicans in part because of the true believers on the conservative right especially media celebrities like Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and others. They attacked republican candidate Sen. John McCain for not being conservative enough, forced him into choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate, pushed McCain far right on issues all of which put him too far to the right (into the former Barry Goldwater end of the spectrum) and lost him the vital independents that both parties need to "peel off" if they are to win elections.
Conservative Republicans seem to have forgotten that no true conservative has ever successfully won a national election. Ronald Reagan, the former democrat and tax-raising Governor of California never was identified with the divisive social issues which color the current party, George H. W. Bush was a moderate by any definition. George W. Bush was a hard-core hawk and NeoCon on defense but campaigned as a "Compassionate Conservative."
This race is a very interesting case study of how al these issues come together and it forces the GOP and its candidates to study the results. On the other hand for supporters of gay marriage and for Democrats in Iowa the race is a cautionary tale because the Democrat who won is NOT a supporter of gay marriage. Thus, that issue will still simmer in 2010.
©2009 Steffen Schmidt, Prof of Political Science, ISU. Reprinted with permission from syndication @ http://www.insideriowa.com, Iowa’s Internet Magazine.