THE GOP’S FUTURE…. What happens when conservative Republican policymakers fail and get thrown out of office? GOP voters want to see the party move even further to the right.

Coming off a shellacking at the polls in November, the plurality of GOP voters (43%) say their party has been too moderate over the past eight years, and 55% think it should become more like Alaska Governor Sarah Palin in the future, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. Just 24% think failed presidential candidate John McCain is the best future model for the party, and 10% are undecided.

Only 17% of Republican voters say their party has been too conservative, and 30% say its actions and positions have been about right, with nine percent (9%) not sure.

Now, I can understand rank-and-file Republicans feeling reluctant to consider McCain a “future model” for the GOP. As Atrios noted this morning, “The dude lost Indiana. No one cares what he thinks.”

But the fact that a majority of Republicans want to see the party emulate Sarah Palin suggests the 21st-century GOP probably should get used to the wilderness for a while.

It will be interesting, though, to see whether (and how much) these numbers change over the course of the next year or so. In the wake of the elections and the Bush/Cheney era, the Republican Party has pretty much bottomed out. As Eric Kleefeld explained, “With the party base itself shrunk down, the people who are still around are the most hard-line members, and are really the least fit people to fix the situation.”

Quite right. The problem becomes self-perpetuating — far-right Palin lovers drive sensible voters away from the Republican Party, giving more influence to far-right Palin lovers who want to shape the party in their image, which in turn drives additional sensible voters away from the Republican Party.

As Kevin Drum noted back in October, “Sarah Palin isn’t the future of their party, she’s the future of mine.”

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.