Brooks' op-ed in NYT yesterday was about the GOP's march to maddness (my words) and it's far right agenda. But neither he, nor the comments I've seen so far about his piece address the reason for this rightward surge.
As I read the op-ed yesterday (in San Jose Mercury News) the first thing I thought he was leading up to was that the rightward surge was all about retaining GOP power... but he never got there .... or even remotely suggested it.
The problem the GOP faces, and has faced now for at least a decade or more, is a split in the party that results in split votes for the conservative's running for office in Senate and executive.
The far right wing consists of a variety of interests --- the tea-party in current form, elements of libertarian ideology, far right religious groups, the fundamentalists (small gov't a'la 1786 version), & strict constitutionalist varieties. What the far right groups have in common is opposition to the more moderate conservative agenda since the moderate wing has governed with the conviction that the far right wing is an extremist form of the conservative party... groups who's voting blocks are to be utilized (thus catering to the social agenda of the religious right for example, or supporting selected elements of the further right libertarians for another), but otherwise not in any significant sense having sufficient voting power by themselves to matter in actual governance.
What has changed during the course of the last decade or two is that the far right wing groups, as a coalition within the larger GOP began to have more and more voting block power... enough so that it began to be important to retain these group's allegience to the GOP as opposed to forming their own coalition as a non-GOP entity... call it the "neo-GOP" party.
Rather than confront this potential party split and risk the consequences in the short term (splitting the GOP ticket moves Democrats to certain power in both Senate and Executive Branches), the GOP decided (predictably btw... even the moderates are conservatives after-all) to accomodate some of the demands of the far right.... to retain their support for a voting block to counter the Democrats in national elections --- and state-wide Senate races. This gave each of these far right groups ever more power as time progressed through each 4 year election cycles. As they obtained more power, it forced even greater shifts of the moderates to accomodate them, .. etc. the cycle continued ever further to the far right.
This is of course precisely the democratic representative system in action.. democracy's intended mechanism in a two party system. It is in real effect just a coalition of various groups, each with a different agenda, which have combined political power as a coalition.
That they have just happened to come from the far right is is happenstance. There are as many minority far left wing variety groups as far right ---The difference is that the variety of small minority interests have been effectively and efficiently co-opted by the moderate conservatives in order to retain a sufficiently large enough voting block to provide an alternative to the democratic agenda. Evidence is pretty obvious in the current House of Reps GOP caucus --- the Leader of the House has time and time again been forced to concede the moderate GOP position to accomodate the far right wing's representatives interests and votes in the GOP caucus. The Senate, to the contrary, has retained (thus far) a moderate GOP majority, hence Senate governance with the Democrats has retained a semblance of ability to govern --- even with the super-majority (effectively) rule.
There has (as of yet at least) been no similar potential split in the democratic party between moderates and far left variety groups so the moderate wing of the democratic party has not had to (yet) shift further left to maintain a large voting block. That could change as easilty as it did with the far right coalitions in the GOP.
What is actually going on is a U.S. maturing process. The process has reached a point where it can no longer remain where it has arrived to this point in time... it must either continue to mature in the direction it's been heading for 200 years, or it must stay where it has arrived or revert to a prior level of maturity. One of the problems its facing is that it's no longer of the socially progressive nations among the OECD majority... as the OECD nations in Europe have coalesced to a more socially responsible form of governance, the US has not kept pace. Thus the gap between what other OECD nations have achieved in socially responsible governments has become greater and more evident to the US population. At the same time the US's rapid rise in standards of living relative to the rest of the OECD's has not remained as rapid as it had been, so the standards of living gaps of the past have markedly decreased.
What the increase in the gap of social responsible gov't and decrease in standards of living gap has done is force the issues that cause these changes in relative gaps to the front... which is to say, a split in the US's composite belief in whether the gap in social responsibele gov't should be narrowed or widened, and whether this will improve (widen) the gap in standards of living.
One side of the divide believes that the gap in social responsible gov't if in narrows any further will lead to a loss of individual freedom and choice... which is to say cause a greater level of taxation and redistribution of wealth, more loss of what are perhaps still considered "state's rights", and more legislation to restrict financial activities, while the other believes that the U.S. should move further down the path it's been moving for the past 200 years --- which is to say ever further to a more socially conscious government. The social responsible movement began in earnest prior to the popular social issues that resulted in the U.S. civil war. Each crises (Great Depression for example) has increased the US's gov't role in social responsible legislation. The recent housing bubble collapse and resultant bailout of wall street's big banks using public funds (gov't) was viewed by one side as the ultimate form of a gov't "welfare" state, for example, and the consequent use of public funds to stimulate the economy as an unnecessary increase in the public debt. The health care law brought the bigger issue to a full head, however, since it brings the U.S. another small step closer to the more socially conscious gov'ts of the OECD's (especially those that are the richest).
These events have forced the issues of whether the US should remain where it is ... or even reduce the gov'ts role in social responsibilities (currently in the form of reducing / eliminating the fully existing forms of it with Social Security and Medicare) and providing more limits on financial methods and actions, or move inexorably but slowly ahead on the trajectory it's been on.
Brooks' op-ed doesn't even touch on the fundamental reasons for the far right wing's effect on the moderate conservatives.