THE LONG-AWAITED INTRA-PARTY FRICTION?…. After the 2008 elections, there were some expectations, here and elsewhere, that Republican infighting would be relatively intense. When a party fails that spectacularly, at so many levels, finger-pointing and a fierce fight to fill a leadership vacuum is almost inevitable.

That never came to pass, at least not in earnest. GOP lawmakers kept most of their leadership in place in both chambers; there was very little blame directed at John McCain; and while there was some squabbling in the race to be the next RNC chairman, all of the candidates were effectively offering the same thing.

Just over the last week or so, the fissures have been slightly more evident. Matt Yglesias flagged these comments from Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, a conservative Republican from a conservative Republican state.

Q: In December you talked about people 40 and under having a very different view on the environment. Is there a similar generational gap on gay rights?

A: You hit on the two issues that I think carry more of a generational component than anything else. And I would liken it a bit to the transformation of the Tory Party in the UK…. They went two or three election cycles without recognizing the issues that the younger citizens in the UK really felt strongly about. They were a very narrow party of angry people. And they started branching out through, maybe, taking a second look at the issues of the day, much like we’re going to have to do for the Republican Party, to reconnect with the youth, to reconnect with people of color, to reconnect with different geographies that we have lost. [emphasis added]

Huntsman made similar comments to the Washington Times this week.

Now, I’ve seen quite a few descriptions of the Republican Party of late, but “a very narrow party of angry people” is one of the more apt. Matt also noted that Huntsman’s contingent also probably includes Charlie Crist and David Brooks, making up a reformist branch looking for a bigger, more inclusive party.

What’s striking, though, is just how small the contingent is. Just a couple of weeks ago, 95% of the Republicans in Congress voted for a stimulus package that didn’t include any stimulus. Rush Limbaugh said no one should criticize far-right Republican Bobby Jindal’s national address, not because it was good, but because he’s a far-right Republican. RNC Chairman Michael Steele is openly discussing the possibility of withholding support from Republican lawmakers who stray from the conservative line. A GOP leader in the House is openly discussing emulating the Taliban, and no one in the party denounced the comments. It’s the Palin-Pence-Plumber Party.

Huntsman’s perspective stands out in large part because most of the party isn’t even willing to consider the possibility of veering from its current course.

If there’s a Republican “civil war” for the party’s future, Huntsman/Crist/Brooks doesn’t stand a chance.

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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.