For a long time, I was convinced that the Democratic elite didn't really care about winning. They held their safe seats, and kept the perks that went along with that. Howard Dean, in my opinion changed that, and while some Democratic elites like Pelosi and Reid seem uncomfortable with actual responsibility, the attitude from most Democratic elites is they like power.
Now, however, it seems like Republicans are not really interested in winning. If you are trying to succeed in politics in the US, you need to go about crafting a majority. Karl Rove understood that much. But the difference between the Democrats time in the wilderness and now with the Republicans is that it isn't just elites who don't seem to care about winning, it's rank and file Republicans as well. Fired up by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, they are more interested in purging so-called moderates from their ranks, and engaging in a kind of ideological purification you usually only see once you've taken power.
Is there another explanation for the current Republican obsession with casting out moderates? One way to consider the question is to look at recent events. If you are a conservative or Republican, you probably believe (with some justification) that Obama's election had more to do with dissatisfaction with President Bush than an embrace of liberalism. Similarly, the Democratic Congressional victories in 2006 can also be explained this way. To go along with this vision, many Republicans are emphasizing Bush's departure from basic conservative tenets--immigration reform most notably, but also No Child Left Behind and Medicare Part D.
Indeed, a conservative critic of Bush could go further--Bush was not a moderate, he was a Progressive in the mold of Woodrow Wilson. In short, a neo conservative. The battle in the Republican ranks may not be between conservatives and moderates, but rather conservatives and neo-conservatives. This isn't to say moderates are neo-conservatives. But they share more of a common world view than either do with the populist conservatives who currently have the loudest voice in the party. I think there is a fundamental ideological split in the Republican Party, but it isn't between social and economic conservatives, nor is it really between moderates and conservatives. It's progressive neo-cons and populist conservatives.
Cheney's recent comments about Powell notwithstanding, it will be interesting to see how the winds blow going forward.