I suppose it’s inevitable that as an electoral cycle intensifies, political actors tend to lose sight of whatever long-range perspective they brought into it, and just hunker down for the battle in front of them. That seems to be what has happened to the Republicans who were so focused as recently as year ago on “rebranding” and other efforts to change their party’s apparent trajectory–or so I argue in my latest TPMCafe column.

Truth is, changing political parties is very hard, and often requires a shared sense of impending catastrophe as a spur to unwelcome change. The “Republican Electoral College Lock” of the 1980s had a lot to do with reformist stirrings in the Democratic Party, and the “demographic disaster” facing Republicans due to their weakness among young and minority voters fed the “rebranding” talk of 2013. But now that we’re fully into a midterm cycle where GOPers benefit from a likely turnout advantage, a remarkably favorable congressional landscape, and all the troubles of a second-term presidency, it’s hard for them to stay scared long enough to clean up their act. So more and more, they’re going with what they’ve got, ugly as it may seem to the constituencies Republicans were so worried about just months ago.

Junking immigration legislation (even as primary contenders loudly attack any policy other than maximum deportation as “amnesty”), renewing fights against contraception and same-sex marriage, orgiastic self-indulgence on “scandals” and even impeachment-talk–these are not behaviors associated with a party suitably worried about its future. So assuming Republicans don’t experience an unexpected setback in November, they’ll be split between those who claim 2012 was just a temporary aberration in a GOP wave that’s now rebuilding, and those who understand the “rebranding” project is now very seriously overdue.

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Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.