After social conservatives rallied to Pat Robertson in Iowa in 1988, and soon took over the formal structure of the Republican Party in many states, it rapidly became very difficult to win a GOP nomination for anything higher than dog catcher without a perfect pro-life position.
And yet the electoral implications beyond nomination politics haven't been particularly severe. Some social conservatives' issues have played well in general elections; some positions have hurt the GOP; others have had little effect one way or another.
Now a new group, the Ron Paul crowd, is taking over some formal GOP structures.
Ed Kilgore, managing editor of the Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, has a great post on the Washington Monthly site detailing some of the wackier things the crowd has put into the Iowa Republican Party platform - for example, eliminating the Agriculture Department (yes, in Iowa) and phasing out Social Security and Medicare.
Overall, it calls for a federal government half the size of what Rep. Paul Ryan has advocated.
But unlike the Robertson Republicans, the Paul crowd is advocating a program that overall is spectacularly unpopular with the general public.
Many libertarians believe that the American people are with them on their basic program, but if that were the case, Ron Paul would have been a viable presidential candidate, rather than struggling to break 15 percent in primaries.
Nor would the polling on government spending be mixed, with majorities in support of cuts to spending overall (good for libertarians) while also for increasing spending on most programs (disaster for libertarians).
While it was relatively painless for many Republicans to adopt conservative Christian positions in the 1980s and '90s, the GOP cannot incorporate the Paul platform without risking major trouble.
If the faction takes over significant numbers of state parties, something has to give: The Paulites are going to have to learn to compromise; the rest of the GOP has to confront them in what could be a very ugly fight - or Republicans risk turning themselves into a minority party.
Kilgore suggests that reporters press Republican candidates in Iowa for their views on the nutty platform. But what will really be interesting is if similar platforms emerge across the nation and at least a few highly visible fights erupt over Paulite positions in the national platform this summer.
In that case, the question will be what Mitt Romney has to say - and what the Ron Paul forces will do if Romney dismisses the importance of party platforms.
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.