Now that the frothmentum is building for Mr. Sad Sweater Vest and his inspiring message that a solid defeat is better than a hollow victory, it’s worth asking whether the GOP arrived at this place all by itself.

True, their natural inclination is always to lurch towards the right, because that’s where the now-irresistible gravitational pull of money pulls both parties.  But even above and beyond that, I have been nursing a suspicion that the Republicans are moving in that direction because Obama’s own conservatism forces them to.

Picture a sort of permanent political DMZ buffer between Obama on the left and the GOP on the right, and then picture Republicans continuously scrambling to stay far enough to the right to continue calling the president a socialist class warrior, even after everything he’s done to protect their wealthy and corporate constituents and beloved war criminals while  extending a firm middle finger to progressives.

Consider: If Mitt Romney somehow fails to capture the Republican nomination despite being a caricature of an uncaring conservative 1% rich dude, it will be because the Republican base still doesn’t think he’s far enough to the right to differentiate himself in the general election.  Partly because they’re crazy and won’t be appeased by anything less than James Dobson crossed with Grover Norquist, but also because Obama adopted Romney’s own healthcare plan for the signature “achievement” of his presidency.

Mitt never repudiated Romneycare or tried to atone for it with ever-escalating gay/Muslim/women/immigrant/union/senior/jobless-bashing, but he could never have imagined that a Democratic president would ever embrace Romneycare so enthusiastically, but that’s the genius of Obama: He forces Republicans to keep running towards right-wing crazytown because they know that if they don’t, he’ll lap them.  He secures his re-election not by making himself more appealing, but by pressuring his opponents to become self-parodies.