This is an article from the New Republic that I thought was a very good background history of conservatism as a political philosophy and an analysis of how the movement has been slowly crippling itself with movement conservatism. The Republican party is made up of a fair number of disparate groups that are currently splintering because the party lacks any compelling charismatic figure (HIS HOLINESS RONALD REAGAN!) to hold them together.
The party isn't dead by a long shot, but the intellectual roots of the conservative movement are ailing and have been for quite some time.
Warning: Pretty long read, but it's worth it, I swear.