Don’t count the RINOs out yet!

The funeral for moderate Republicanism has now spanned generations. The GOP’s dwindling Rockefeller Republican caucus was wringing its hands back when Ronald Reagan was elected president, but the pace of extinction is accelerating. The squeeze on the middle appears at its all-time worst. In the past decade, the ranks have been thinned. The weekly lunches at the Capitol of moderate Republicans could fill a large table: At some points, 10 members of the Republican Party would have been comfortable at the gatherings, including Lincoln Chafee, Arlen Specter, Jim Jeffords, Jim Leach, Rob Simmons, and Charlie Bass. Now the remaining moderate Republicans in the Senate all hail from New England and number three—on a good day.

As dark as this picture is for congressional candidates, there’s bright news at the state level. Somehow, moderates are holding their own in governor’s races—and some of the party’s biggest rising stars are centrists in the statehouse ranks.

If Sarah Palin and Jim DeMint are the patron saints of hard-right anti-establishment types, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is their counterpart in the center. The wily head of the Republican Governors Association, a possible contender for president in 2012, preaches a big-tent philosophy that contrasts sharply with the ideological purification drive on the right.