In the Times of London, Daniel Finkelstein writes:

There is no more eloquent statement of modern Republicanism than resigning office with time still on the clock. Mrs Palin has chosen to talk about power, rather than exercise it. She would rather write a book and give lectures about being a governor than actually be a governor. And her party has made the same choice.

Yet the anger of Nixon’s coalition has never quite left it, even after years of huge political success. They see themselves as the eternally frustrated rebels knocking on the barred doors of Washington DC, when they have been on the inside themselves for years.

It has cast itself, deliberately, as the opposition, the angry outsider, and it is more comfortable in this role than it is as the party of power. As Rick Perlstein describes in his book Nixonland, being the party of the angry outsider began as an election strategy. Richard Nixon wanted to mop up votes that went to urban machine “law-and-order” Democratic mayors such as Richard Daley in the North and populist rabble rousers such as the segregationist Democrat George Wallace in the South.

Others attack the GOP from exactly the opposite direction. For years, we have heard that Republicans are elitist insiders who only want power.  “It is power that attracts them,” wrote John Dean in Broken Government, “it is a tropism for authoritarian personalities, like moths to the flame.”  In 2006, Thomas B. Edsall wrote Building Red America: The New Conservative Coalition and the Drive for Permanent Power.   He called the GOP “the party of the socially and economically dominant and of those who identify with the dominant.”

Both lines of attack are caricatures. Republican politicians do want power — like Democratic politicians — but they are often inept and disorganized in pursuing it.  As for economic dominance, one need only note that a majority of those among those making $200,000 a year or more supported Barack Obama.

There is a bit of truth to Finkelstein’s analysis: Republicans have indeed cast themselves as the opposition. Since Democrats control the White House and Congress, that’s what Republicans are. When the GOP was in power, Democrats were the opposition. Barack Obama deliberately cast himself as an outsider, hence his Secret Service code name — and the title of an admiring biography — “Renegade.”