GOP BASE OPPOSES PROGRESS…. It’s hard to say whether Republican Party leaders on the Hill or in the RNC have any genuine interest in moving the party back towards the political mainstream, but in some ways, it doesn’t really matter. Even if GOP leaders saw the utility of moderating the party, the Republican base wouldn’t allow it.

A quick tour through the week’s headlines suggests the Republican Party is beginning to come to terms with the last election and that consensus is emerging among GOP elites that the party needs to move away from discordant social issues.

There was Sen. John McCain’s daughter and his campaign manager who last week demanded that their fellow Republicans embrace same-sex marriage. Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman — the most devoted modernizer among the party’s 2012 hopefuls — won approving words from New York Times columnist Frank Rich for his call to downplay divisive values issues. The party’s top elected leaders in Congress, meanwhile, spooked by being attacked as the “party of no,” were recasting themselves as a constructive, respectful opposition to a popular president.

But outside Washington, the reality is very different. Rank-and-file Republicans remain, by all indications, staunchly conservative, and they appear to have no desire to moderate their views…. There is little appetite for compromise on what many see as core issues, and the road to the presidential nomination lies — as always — through a series of states where the conservative base holds sway, and where the anger appears to be, if anything, particularly intense.

Katon Dawson, the outgoing South Carolina Republican Party chairman, added, “There is a sense of rebellion brewing.” It’s not clear who would be the target of this rebellion, but the comments certainly sound menacing, don’t they?

These rank-and-file Republicans that make up the party’s base have a straightforward agenda — make the party as right-wing as they can on issues such as immigration, taxes, and marriage equality. “I’ve never seen the grass-roots quite as motivated, concerned and angry,” said Steve Scheffler, the head of the Iowa Christian Alliance and the state’s RNC committeeman.

It’s not that there are no voices trying to pull the party in the other direction — the Main Street Republican Partnership, the Republican Majority for Choice, and the Log Cabin Republicans exist — it’s just that those voices are hopeless, powerless, and ignored.

The result is obvious: a Republican Party that stays exactly as it is now. Same coalitions, same priorities, same ideology, same agenda.

If the GOP were a credible and competitive national party, leaving things as-is might be a sensible approach. But given reality, it’s hardly a recipe for success.

Steve Benen

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.