A friend of mine writes:
I think an interesting thing is developing where small groups are splintering off towards individual candidates that best represent them, to the detriment of the "Newsweek cover" candidates. For GOP it's Huckabee [religious conservatives] and Paul [libertarian leaners], and for the Dems it's Obama [progressive non-establishment] and Edwards [labor, social activists]. Whether you buy it or not, I heard there's support in Iowa for Richardson as rural farmer candidate. Did you know the NRA endorsed him?! I certainly think Guiliani has some bona fide issues that attract people to him [immigration, tyrrany], but Clinton and Romney are basically running on the establishment+popularity contest ticket. What seems to be more and more likely is that the entertainment that is the primary may last much longer than many fretted given the early primaries, and that who ever the eventual nominees are (save a weird Obama-Huckabee which would result in the absolute destruction of the GOP), the kooky shape-shifting oddity that this cycle has become will persist. Consider Hillary-Huckabee. She would slaughter him, but think of the implications of so many big-business types moving to the D side. Moreover, consider Obama-Romney. How do you run that race? Again, Obama would slaughter him, but can you imagine watching Romney trying to stay far enough right to retain his base? He could essentially obliterate the gains he has to his credit as Mass Governor, which he has not been able to rely on thus far. Hillary-Guiliani obviously would be the most fun, for the reasons we (and everyone else) have been considering. Two New York pro-choice, pro-gay, pro-secrecy and control candidates. Nothing good about either of them, all the partisans voting first and foremost against the
...In other words: strap on your seat belts, folks. This one could get bumpy.
In all seriousness, though, I think my friend raises an interesting point- this is the first time in my memory where you really are seeing the factionalization of both parties. For that matter, it's been pretty rare that you've seen even one party sort of factionalize severely in the primaries.
This year, you seem to have a situation where core interest groups of both parties are essentially saying "You know what? We're not going to allow you to take us for granted anymore." And so you have the libertarians lining up behind Paul and to a lesser extent Thompson and McCain (contrary to belief, I don't know of many/any pro-Giuliani libertarians, even self-described). The Wall Street Republicans are lining up behind Giuliani or in some cases Hillary. The Republican establishment has thrown its weight largely behind Romney, and the fundamentalists have found their man in Huckabee. So on the Republican side, the race for once isn't an issue of who can have the best claim on being "conservative"- the word is now devoid of meaning. Instead, it seems to be more of an issue of which candidate's core interest group is most powerful. The Republican primary thus is shaping up to be a pretty bloody, very regional contest. Importantly, though, this factionalization of the Republican party creates a scenario where it's easy to see as many as three independent third party runs (Paul, Bloomberg/Hagel, and some sort of theo-con if Huckabee loses).
On the Dems' side, I think you are slowly starting to see something similar developing, albeit on a smaller scale. If Hillary is the nominee, it's quite conceivable that you would see a major third party run to her left.
But the prospect of a Huckabee/Hillary or Huckabee/Obama race raises all sorts of interesting possibilities. One such possibility is the effective end of the Republican party as the limited-government party and, ironically, the beginning of the end of the Democratic party as the party of big government economics. Meanwhile, Hillary's resulting support from the business community could result in Dems adopting a more market-oriented approach to business issues. This would speed up a transformation suggested by Reason's print edition this month (sorry- no link), in which Dems such as Hillary and Chuck Schumer are now proposing personal bond accounts for children that would be similar in principle and practice to personal social security accounts (aka privatized social security). Republicans, meanwhile are opposing such proposals.
Certainly, a Huckabee nomination by the Republicans would result in libertarians largely severing all ties with the Republican party and, presumably, moving to the Dems' side; meanwhile, you could fairly easily see some liberal groups looking past Huckabee's cultural conservatism to his big-government/anti-corporation populism. Either way, the interesting thing as I see it is this factionalization occuring within the parties right now. In the past, factions certainly had their favorite candidates within their core party. But this time around those factions largely have no willingness to support anyone other than their favorite candidate. For instance, the anti-war left will likely have a difficult time reconciling itself with Hillary's general hawkishness; evangelicals will have an equally difficult time reconciling themselves with the many flaws of a Giuliani or a Romney; libertarians could not possibly get on board with Giuliani, Romney, or Huckabee; and so forth.
In many ways, I should add, this factionalization would be a good thing in the long run. Certainly you could see the development of at least one serious third party with a coherent philosophy for the first time in 150 years (the Reform Party, we should remember, had no coherent philosophy other than being against the status quo). At the very least, though, you would see a noticeable realignment of each party's makeup, injecting some fresh ideas into each party.