James Joyner expects demographic trends to eventually transform the GOP. In the near term:
Whether someone like Huntsman will be the Republican nominee in 2016 depends almost entirely on what happens these next ten months. If Romney wins the nomination and loses to Obama–both of which seem likely right now–then we’ll likely see a swing to the right in 2016, as it would reinforce in the nominating electorate the notion that nominating moderates is a recipe for disaster.
If Romney wins the nomination and beats Obama, he will, barring tragedy, be the nominee in 2016 and 2020 will proceed along something like the current path, with no lessons being learned. The only real way to speed up the learning curve–and it might take two presidential cycles even then–would be if Santorum were to get the nomination and then lose in an Electoral College landslide to Obama despite a down economy. Were that to happen, it would be hard for the base to tell themselves that they got beaten because they didn’t get behind a Real Conservative.