And the funny thing is, Robert McFarlane, the former Reagan national security advisor who said that, is actually a McCain supporter. But McFarlane sees a world of difference between the inexperienced next-generation neocons who are closest to McCain and the old realists (like himself) who might steer a McCain administration once the youngsters foul up and get fired.

“My ears perked up when I heard this assessment,” writes Jacob Heilbrunn, who attended the Nixon Center event at which McFarlane spoke, “because it confirms what I’ve been hearing elsewhere: while Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft, and other realist elders are consulted by McCain, his heart is with the younger neocons, the ‘beavers,’ in the words of one McCain supporter, who draft the speeches and get the grunt work done.”

Heilbrunn points to why, despite the bad odor they have come into during the Bush years, the neocons have never gone away and are not about to do so:

The gap — and it is fundamental — in the GOP today is generational. The elderly realists haven’t groomed anyone to replace them. The neocons have. Hence neocon redux. When someone of McFarlane’s stature offers the assessment that the neocons are in charge, then it’s pretty much official. The longer the election campaign goes on, the clearer it becomes that the neocons aren’t back. They never went away.

There are some young realists out there, of course — but few of them are in positions of influence within the GOP. And unfortunately, I can’t see that the party would welcome them if they tried to come on board. The Republicans’ domestic ideological commitments, the need to position themselves as patriots and the Democrats as America-damning traitors, preclude them from taking realists seriously. Old warhorses like McFarlane still have cachet, but the prospects for a younger realists making their way in the party look to be nugatory.