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Is the Republican Party in peril?

Conservative thinkers and political historians think the GOP could be at the end of its historic 40-year grasp on power.

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Gingrich argues that cultural polarization – a chief tactic of former Bush adviser Karl Rove – has run its course. "The Republican brand has been so badly damaged that if Republicans try to run an anti-Obama, anti-Reverend Wright ... campaign they are simply going to fail," he wrote in Human Events, alluding to the Illinois senator's controversial former pastor. "This model has already been tested with disastrous results."

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In his new book "Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again," David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter, urges Republicans to scrap their reflexive advocacy for tax cuts and deregulation. Particularly in difficult times, he asserts, Americans want competent government more than small government. "There are things only government can do, and if we conservatives wish to be entrusted with the management of government, we must prove that we care enough about government to manage it well."

One of the most talked-about books of the genre is "Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream." The authors, Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, young editors at Atlantic Monthly, assert that while the GOP has learned to speak to the cultural concerns of working-class whites, it has failed to address their economic unease. They propose a mix of wage subsidies for the working poor, a bigger child tax credit, and steps toward a universal healthcare system rooted in the free market.

While an old guard sees a return to a Reagan-era conservatism as the only salvation, a few conservatives, however paradoxically, see rebirth in a vote for Obama.

"Of all the obstacles to a revival of genuine conservatism, this absence of self-awareness constitutes the greatest," Andrew Bacevich, a conservative Boston University historian wrote in March in The American Conservative magazine. "Recognition that the Iraq War has been a fool's errand – that cheap oil, the essential lubricant of the American way of life, is gone for good – may have a salutary effect. Acknowledging failure just might open the door to self-reflection."

Gloomy about their prospects this November, some right-wing thinkers see at least one silver lining: the legacy of four decades of conservative dominance on the era's most successful Democrats. Bill Clinton was a centrist who reformed welfare and backed free trade; Obama advertises his appeal to Republicans ("Obamacans," in his campaign lingo), and he backs a range of policies that mix free-market ideas with government regulation.

"What is remarkable about the cautious, unimaginative campaign speeches of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is how much they bear the stamp of conservative intellectual debates that preceded them," Daniel Casse wrote in April in the conservative Weekly Standard. "These liberal Democratic presidential aspirants coyly demur on tax increases. Their discussions of foreign policy invoke American credibility. They talk about efficiency in government. Yes, conservatives know these are poll-massaged, manufactured personas; yet surely they reflect how much of the conservative flavoring has seeped into the Democratic drinking water."

[Editor's note: The original version misstated when the GOP lost the Senate.]