This is how we end up with the famous Figure 4-1 from Cohen, Karol, Noel, and Zaller's book The Party Decides. As the plot below shows, the longer a party is deprived control of the White House, the more moderate its presidential nominees become. One term out of office may be a fluke, but two terms is serious, and three is catastrophic. Parties take this seriously and tend to nominate considerably more centrist people, sacrificing a significant chunk of their governing agenda for a chance of actually governing.
For an interesting case study, please read this op/ed in Sunday's Denver Post by former Colorado state legislators Josh Penry and Rob Witwer. These are both serious people who are highly regarded in Colorado Republican politics. Witwer is a former state representative who has actively researched and written on Democratic political tactics. Penry is a former state senator and gubernatorial candidate who would quite likely be governor today if not for a Tea Party insurgency that produced the Great McInnis/Maes/Tancredo Meltdown of 2010. They've noticed that while Colorado used to be a reliably Republican state and is now considered purple, the GOP hasn't won a major statewide race there since 2004. As they write,
We live in a diverse state that is roughly divided between Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters. Yet since the mid-1990s, our party has been barely distinguishable from the TV show "Survivor."
Every year, we kick somebody else off the island. We make it easy for Democrats to say that we don't want the support of women, Hispanics, teachers, gays and lesbians, African-Americans, conservationists, Muslims and union members. Pretty soon there won't be anybody left to vote for us. [...]
Even the Almighty won't help us if we can't do better than a crusty old white guy with a penchant for running up the debt versus another crusty old white guy incapable of conveying empathy for victims of rape.
There is nothing inevitable about the Republican Party. If we continue to offer voters poor choices cycle after cycle, they will decide that they can do just fine without us, thank you very much. Just ask the Federalists or the Whigs.Expect those making these arguments to butt heads with those urging ideological purity in the 2014 primary elections. Long before the 2016 presidential field is set, we'll see plenty of debates in primaries for congressional and state legislative seats, starting roughly a year from now. That's when we'll get to see just how powerful the calls for moderation and openness are and how much Republicans are willing to sacrifice for a chance to lead.