Republicans' number one goal is to do whatever it takes to get and keep power. Their ideological hero is not William F Buckley but John Wayne and Dirty Harry. They admire those who tame the untamed. They stir up conflict and create external threats to create unity and consolidate power. *
Because power is their sole aim, they are short on ideas once they get into power--the vision thing. Corporations have been synergistic by giving Republicans a job to do--help corporations--and more power in the form of money. This relationship did not begin in the 20th century. It goes back to the rise of corporations after the Civil War, not long after the Republican party was born, but it has clearly been reinvigorated more recently.
In contrast, Democrats still lead with ideology. Their heroes use words to defeat bullies--Clarence Darrow, most Jimmy Stewart movies. They value debate as a means to improve their ideology even if it splinters the party.
Their weakness is the opposite of the Republicans: plenty of vision but less emphasis on the will to execute it. In the worst cases, Democrats have been maneuvered to take a position against the exercise of power, crippling themselves.
--Republicans are tamers, living in the bottom layer of Maslow's hierarchy. Democrats are developers, living at a higher level. There might have been natural synergy and balance here, but the parties have not evolved that way.
--Democrats triumphantly point out the hypocrisies, inconsistencies, and intellectual poverty in Republican arguments. Republicans...don't care. None of these things is important to Republicans unless they interfere with power. Democrats are preaching to the choir, their own base. Nothing wrong with that, but it won't make any bipartisan inroads.
--Democrats believe they won 2008 because:
America was fed up with 8 years of Bush
Backlash from banking crash/crisis
Obama outclassed and out-debated McCain
Republicans believe they lost 2008 because:
Obama raised more money
There is truth in both views, but there are also colossal blind spots.
Democrats watch the right for signs of coalescing ideology because ideology is important to Democrats, but it's just not that important to Republicans. Democrats that are watching Karl Rove, shadow organizations of all kinds, and behind-the-scenes power grabs are on the right track. I'd even go so far as to expect Republicans to break laws because it's consistent with their values.
Republicans did not take Democrats seriously even after Obama and a majority got elected in 2008. Republicans did not take Democrats seriously until they proved they could actually wield power and get legislation passed.
There is a lesson here for Democrats. Republicans don't care who is right. They care who is stronger. Democrats won't earn the respect and cooperation of Republicans with mercy or letting Republicans save face. They will only earn it by winning fights against Republicans.
*Former Conservative idealists--those small-government, free market people, are relegated to the fringes and often labeled libertarians. There is an interesting split forming because the Ron Paul idologues are daring to take on the Mitch McConnell/Karl Rove corporatists and break up Republican unity.