Last year, two highly respected Washington centrists dissected the dysfunction in Congress and declared that, while both sides shared responsibility, most of the blame lay with the Republicans' "new politics of extremism." Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein titled their book "It's Even Worse Than It Looks."
You could say the same thing about the state of the Republican Party today: It's worse than it looks.
It's not just that Republicans lost the last two presidential elections, or that the fastest growing parts of the electorate — minorities, young people, women — have turned against them, or that President Obama has outmaneuvered them at every turn in the months since the election.
It's that the Republican Party, which seemed ascendant after the 2010 tea party election and seemed ideologically unified a year ago is really anything but. In the next few years, it is likely to splinter badly as it struggles to find a new identity.
Republicans may seem united in their calls for reduced government spending, but that's about all that unites them. As push comes to shove, and spending choices get more specific, we'll cracks in their united front.
How many ways are the Republicans divided?
They are split on tactics. The obstructionism they've practiced these last four years didn't work for them, but their base has convinced itself that compromise is tantamount to treason. House Speaker John Boehner is trying to get the most from his limited hand, but he's only barely in control of his own caucus.
They are split between big business and small business, between the old guard that took its cues from Wall Street and K Street, and the newcomers who consider big business to be big government's enabler.
There's an interesting fracas brewing, with some top Republicans in Congress proposing new taxes on Wall Street, in part to punish bank CEOs who lobbied for higher income tax rates in the fiscal cliff deal.
They are split by region, a divide exposed in the House debate over aid for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. That split may get larger as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie jockeys for position in the 2016 GOP presidential field.
They are split on ideology. There has always been a divide on social issues between the party's evangelical and libertarian wings, but as the religious right fades and the libertarians rise — the Ron Paul brigade was the youngest and most committed faction in last year's primaries — that divide is going to grow.
They are split on foreign policy, between neo-conservative hawks and neo-isolationist hawks. A growing number of Republicans are even ready to cut the Pentagon budget.
The next few months will likely see splits among Republicans on immigration reform, on gun control, and maybe climate change. Politicians read the exit polls, and they know they know it's their positions that are losing favor with voters, not just their national candidates.
Page 2 of 2 - It doesn't get better for Republicans, at least in the short term. They have no leader to bring them together. Boehner, its top elected official, barely won re-election by Republicans in the House. Its Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, is facing a primary challenge back in Kentucky. Its last presidential nominee is apparently in a witness protection program.
The GOP's other top leaders are running for president, which will deepen the party's divisions. A year ago, the debate stage was filled with unanimity, with candidates taking essentially the same positions on immigration, abortion, gay rights, taxation.
I don't think we'll see that next time around. Sen. Marco Rubio is already breaking party orthodoxy on immigration.
Rep. Paul Ryan has just signed on to a "personhood" bill, staking out an extreme position on abortion rights. How much longer before a Republican candidate takes a libertarian position in favor of same-sex marriage, marijuana reform, even abortion rights?
The other factor that has unified Republicans is hatred of Barack Obama, but he's run his last campaign. The closer we get to the next election, the less potent he'll become in terms of mobilizing the opposition.
Over time, these divisions will work themselves out. America's two-party system is durable. Parties pulled to extremes eventually swing back to the center, because that's where the votes are.
But that transition won't happen fast or without ugliness. Moderate Republicans like Colin Powell are getting more candid with their criticism of the crazies.
Sophisticated conservatives, including some of the party's wealthiest donors, are tired of being associated with birthers, doomsday preppers and talk radio extremists.
But those who are quick to denounce "RINOs" (Republicans In Name Only) at the least provocation will not shut up and go away. They'll keep threatening GOP incumbents with primary challenges and will be a force in presidential primaries three years from now.
It's not just that Republicans are losing favor with Democrats and independents. A recent Pew poll found that Republicans are dissatisfied with the Republican Party as well. Favorable opinions of the GOP among Republicans have fallen 20 points since September, the poll found, to 69 percent.
Those dissatisfied Republicans are found on both ends of the spectrum. Some think the party is too extreme; some think it's not extreme enough.
It all adds up to a long and rocky road out of the wilderness for the Grand Old Party.