Time to Clean House...
Re: The slavish devotion of the GOP to religious whack-jobs -- perhaps it's time to cut the umbilical. Time for a good-old-fashioned cost-to-benefits analysis in terms of what do social conservatives bring to the Republican party as opposed to what they cost it.
On the Pro side:
* Money - social conservatives are willing to spend considerable dough to see their pet-peeves addressed: abortion, Supreme Court nominations, reigning in of permissive society.
*Voting blocs - churches are enormously successful in gathering constituents and directing their votes in a certain direction. Many people in this country simply won't do anything without the permission of Pastor Bob and his assurance that God said "it's alright".
On the Con Side:
* Artificially-skewed primary process - the need to mollify that wing of the party results in a primary system in which their issues enjoy a place of prominence and must be addressed in a way they find acceptable if a candidate is to make any headway. This leads to two phenomena:
a) Candidates who have to take the entire social-conservative agenda seriously, to the point where positions they formerly held might have to be changed (i.e. McCain on immigration, Romney on Abortion and Gay rights, Giuliani on same). This leads to an interesting circumstance; the candidate MUST tow the line, at least publicly on these issues, but then gets hammered by social conservatives who play the "gotcha" game -- you flipped-flopped. Social conservatives LOVE to feel superior to the rest of us, you see, and there's no better way to make them feel superior than to present them with the opportunity to call you a hypocrite. They set the rules, when the rules get followed, they then complain that you didn't really mean it; it's a self-fulfilling prophecy which might deprive us of truly good candidates, but which gives the panty-bunched the opportunity to pat themselves on the back.
b) Once the process described in a) is complete, what's left standing of the original field of candidates is hardly the best and brightest. Having engineered a process which is assured to produce the liar...errr...candidate closest to their positions, they wind up setting up a candidate who will then have an extraordinary test ahead of him in winning a general election. Socially-conservative positions are not popular, as a rule, and therefore, the candidate who advocates them is not as popular as he might be.
Separation of Church and State: the Constitution forbids the establishment of a state religion, and while courting the support of social conservatives is not, de facto, recognizing a particular religious belief or system it is, de jure, elevating one religion over others, and has the effect of tainting the political process with religious belief. If you don;t tow the Christian line, you will not get elected.
Political Oblivion: Eventually, when one wing of a party gets too powerful or exercises too much influence over the business of the party, that wing ultimately destroys the party from within. Having once gotten a taste of the power they wield within the GOP (which has jumped to address their concerns with indecent haste) the religious wing of the party continues to hammer away with greater fervor in successive elections, drawing the party ever further right, ever closer to becoming an advocate for religion and shoving it ever further from being representative of the majority of it's members. At some point, the religious right in this country will either transform the GOP into a Taliban-like party (based on Christian principles), or it will make it so unpopular as to preclude the winning of any office ever again.
Short-sighted as most politicians are, however, they will opt to take the money and organized voting blocs and ignore the negatives for as long as they possibly can. Therefore, I hold out no long-term hope for the GOP so long as it is dependant upon the money and primary votes which religious organizations and churches can provide.
A third-party is not a viable alternative; there is no existing third party that can actually make a serious run for national office, and thanks to the "Conservatives" who brought us "Campaign Finance Reform", starting a new one has been made a nearly impossible task. It is time for rank-and-file republicans (Classical Liberals) to take their party back.