It's funny to think back to the spring, when Republican leaders seemed cautiously optimistic about the road ahead. Sure, 2012 clearly didn't work out as planned, but the party had a detailed "autopsy" of what went wrong, a blueprint for getting back on track, a House majority, and a stable of prominent officials eager to claim leadership roles. Talk of "rebranding" was in the air.
And yet, here we are.
"The party is acting as if the entire world is a GOP primary," said Mike Murphy, a prominent Republican campaign consultant. "That is a very dangerous way to operate. We have massive image problems with the greater electorate, and the silly antics of the purist wing are making our dire problems even worse."
That's a good quote, and Mike Murphy is a credible observer from within the Republican mainstream, but what I found most interesting about this line is its broad applicability. When he says his party is "acting as if the entire world is a GOP primary," it's unclear what he's referring to specifically, but it doesn't really matter -- he's likely referring to nearly everything.
* It applies to immigration, where the Republican establishment would love to see a reform bill pass to advance the party's electoral interests, but where the GOP base and congressional rank and file continue to signal an intention to kill proposed legislation.
* It applies to intra-party primary challenges, where conservative incumbents like Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) are facing Republican opponents in 2014 because they've been insufficiently right-wing.
* It applies to RNC plans for 2016, including debates moderated by right-wing media personalities on networks the party deems acceptable.
In Iowa this week, the co-chairman of the Republican Party in Polk County, Iowa -- the state's most populous county -- resigned and changed his party registration, no longer able to tolerate the GOP's radicalism, "hateful" rhetoric, and "war on science and common sense" (thanks to reader B.D. for the tip).
And there's simply no reason to believe these conditions are going to improve anytime soon.
It's far easier to imagine things getting much worse.
Heritage Action for America has a message for 100 House Republicans: You want to sign freshman Rep. Mark Meadows' letter.
The advocacy group launched a $550,000 online ad campaign Monday that targets GOP lawmakers who haven't yet signed on to the petition being circulated by the North Carolina Republican.
The full text of the letter and final list of co-signers won't be made public until Thursday, Meadows' office told CQ Roll Call. But when it is sent to House Republican leaders, it will demand that they "take the steps necessary to defund Obamacare in its entirety, including on a year-end funding bill like a continuing resolution."
Spokesman Dan Holler wouldn't confirm whether the 133 members not included on Heritage Action's target list are ones who have already signed Meadows' letter, saying only that "a bunch of these folks come from conservative districts, and they have conservative constituents who aren't having their views represented in Washington."
Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei reported in a much-discussed piece last week, "It is almost impossible to find an establishment Republican in town who's not downright morose about the 2013 that has been and is about to be. Most dance around it in public, but they see this year as a disaster in the making, even if most elected Republicans don't know it or admit it. Several influential Republicans told us the party is actually in a worse place than it was Nov. 7, the day after the disastrous election."
And still to come are Republican schemes to shut down the government and cause another debt-ceiling crisis.
This would ordinarily be the point at which party leaders would take stock, step up, and try to calm the waters, but the Republican Party doesn't really have any leaders -- it has factions ostensibly led by a House Speaker who has no real influence over his own members and a Senate Minority Leader who's so terrified of losing a primary fight that he's scared of his own shadow.
At the grassroots level, the only Republicans who seem to generate any excitement at all are a right-wing Texan who's been in Congress for seven months -- just long enough to make all of his colleagues on Capitol Hill hate him -- and a libertarian Kentuckian who doesn't understand the issues he claims to care about most.
There are structural considerations that may keep the congressional status quo in place for a while -- gerrymandered districts make a Democratic House majority unlikely anytime soon -- but in the meantime, the Republican Party will remain divided against itself.