The tough thing about wrapping your mind around the Republican identity crisis, which most recently manifested itself in the civil war in New York's 23rd Congressional district, is that every commentator has a stake. Liberal pundits want to make the Republicans look self-destructive and out of control. Conservatives counter that the party is having a healthy internal debate. Enter New York Times political correspondent Adam Nagourney, a reporter who puts cool-headed analysis above self-serving spin. Nagourney makes the case that there's a simple but serious reason for the Republican party's struggles:

The debate has been fueled by a somewhat inchoate populist anger that has taken hold among grass-roots conservatives, encouraged in part by political leaders like Sarah Palin, the party’s vice-presidential nominee last year, and commentators like Glenn Beck of Fox News. [...]

The situation is all the more complicated because, after the party’s defeats in 2008, it has no dominant leaders or cohesive establishment to bridge the divides and help articulate a positive agenda. In that vacuum, the conservative activists and party leaders were both jockeying for advantage on Wednesday.

Nagourney contends that the Republican power vacuum is allowing traditional fault lines to widen and split in the wrangling between would-be leaders. Any coalition without a head naturally begins to splinter, and this explains the civil war that emerged in NY-23 as well as the ongoing disputes between party moderates and conservatives. If Nagourney is correct, the problem flows from the top down and not from the grassroots up.