While most people may still identify as loosely conservative and while conservatives continue to win elections often enough, it's hard to miss that conservative politics continues to get watered down and compromised while liberal politics continues to intensify its ideological orientation.
Put simply liberals have been left to the left... but so have conservatives. And that's a serious problem as the drift continues to move the "Center" or what's considered politically moderate to the left. In other words liberalism is winning the ideological and culture wars.
The reason why this is happening is the orientation of legitimacy. For much of the 20th century, liberals demonized conservatives and conservatives demonized liberals. On a national scale though it was the liberals whose negative portrayal of conservatives triumphed with the perception of McCarthyism serving as a turning point. With culture of the culture through entertain, education and media, the liberal image of the bad conservatives has predominated far more than the conservative image of the bad liberal.
The result has created a negative image of conservatives even within conservative movements, a negative image that has created a pressure to "mainstream" conservative parties by pushing them toward a compromise "center" with liberalism.
"See we're reasonable folks. We can be moderates," say the Conservative Charlie Browns, aiming for the center. And right as they kick out, the Liberal Lucy's pull the football away leaving them in the muck again and toss that football further to the left, leaving the conservatives to follow. On and on the same charade keeps being repeated with the same results leaving not only First World nations but conservative movements leaning further to the left than ever.
The orientation of legitimacy therefore points different ways within Conservative movements and within Liberal movements. Where in Conservative movements the orientation of legitimacy is toward the "moderate" conservatives moving toward the left, in Liberal movements the orientation of legitimacy is toward the "extreme" left whose ideas slowly become mainstreamed.
As conservatives become more moderate, liberals become more extreme. Among moderate liberals, leftist politics, even extremist leftist politics are often viewed as a badge of honor. The unacceptable ideas of a few decades ago are now mainstream consensus not only among liberals but generally among people as a whole. By contrast the acceptable conservative ideas of a few decades ago are today considered extremist even among conservatives.
The result of this unbalanced situation is that there is nothing that exists to arrest the leftward drift. While a stable political culture achieves a balance between extremes, the modern political consensus, like a boat drifting out to sea, continues to float away.
Conservatives feed this cycle by giving up the balance and pursuing liberal ideas. In turn liberals are driven to distinguish themselves from conservatives by pushing further to the left. The left pushes even further to distinguish itself from the liberals. Like an absurd children's game, conservatives chase liberals, liberals chase the left and the left begins chasing after a new level of extremes by embracing everything from terrorism to a world devoid of human life.
The watering down of conservatism is the bill paid by short term thinking. Conservatives look to win present day elections by seizing the center and driving liberals further to the margins. This has worked well enough for them to be able to win elections by portraying liberal candidates as extreme. The problem is that a few years later the margins have become the mainstream and another battle in the ideological war has been lost through outright surrender. As a result such tactics lead to the belief that conservatives are advancing when in reality they're retreating. Every step forward turns out to be a Leninist step back.
The price of making liberals look radical by seizing the center is to make your own present day beliefs radical a few years from now. The deeper conservatives advance into liberal territory, the more liberal they become.
This is the price of going native. The best way to be condemned by a liberal is to be more conservative than him. The best way to be condemned by a conservative is to be more conservative than he is. As conservatives, even staunchly conservative conservatives drift toward the "center", the people they leave behind to take their place are often on the loony and bigoted fringe. They then become the flag bearers of old conservative ideas and quickly discredit them by association, only furthering the leftward drift.
As the right becomes associated with extremist bigots and Nazi sympathizers, the stampede only intensifies. Meanwhile liberals are never held accountable for their extreme wing, despite the fact that liberalism is actually drifting to meet them.
While conservatives keep winning elections, liberals keep winning the argument by shifting the goal posts. Conservatives mark an electoral victory, liberals mark cultural victories. The voters of today come to the polling station with a definition of mainstream that falls well within the boundary of liberal ideas of a few decades ago. They may cast their ballots for a conservative candidate, but that is only because the conservative candidate has moved well within that boundary himself.