The reason for this similarity is quite straightforward. In the 1960s, under Lyndon Johnson, the Democrats basically achieved most of the maximalist policy ambitions of post-Roosevelt liberalism: immigration reform, voting rights, medicare, etc. Likewise, in the 2000s, under George Bush, the Republicans basically achieved most of the maximalist policy ambitions of post-Reagan conservatism: massive tax cuts for the wealthy, wars of choice against foreign enemies, a rollback of restrictions on executive action, the utter dis-regulation of financial services, and so on.
In each case, the country ended this run of policy accomplishment by plunging into chaos that was clearly linked to (if not caused by) the policies that had been enacted under the President. The late 1960s and early 1970s witnessed urban rioting, a rising fiscal deficit and contracting dollar, rising inflation, an intractable war, a secular loss of American power and authority... and a consequent collapse of political civility. The symbolic center of the liberal meltdown was the Tet Offensive of 1968, which seemed to give the lie to everything that the sitting Democrat stood for, ideologically and practically, discrediting him both in the eyes of the opposing party and in the eyes of his own political base. Since 2008 we've seen a financial meltdown due to dis-regulation, a rising fiscal deficit and contracting dollar, an intractable war, a secular loss of American power and authority... and a consequent collapse of political civility. The symbolic center of the conservative meltdown was the Great Financial Panic of 2008, which gave the lie to everything that the sitting Republican stood for, discrediting him in the eyes of both the opposing party and his own political base.
Indeed, 1968 and 2008 were the key years. In 1968 the liberal-centrist-establishment wing got to nominate its candidate (Hubert Humphrey), who then got beaten by Nixon. A figure who was anathema to everything that post-Roosevelt liberalism represented, Nixon was elected mainly because voters were disgusted by the colossal mess that his liberal predecessor had made. The resulting fingerpointing led to a vicious fight between the liberal-centrist-establishment wing of the Democratic Party and its leftwing base. Over the next four years, the Democrats entered circular firing squad mode, fighting over ideological litmus tests as well as practical electoral tactics. More notoriously, they also took to the streets, rioting against Nixon's policies in a way that was highly alienating to mainstream voters. Eventually, this degenerated into various forms of low-level domestic terrorism (e.g. the Weathermen, Black Panthers, etc.). As a result, the "brand" of liberalism was tainted in a permanent way with the protesting extremists -- the latter being profoundly ironic, given the fact that the left extremists were at least in as much revolt against the moderate liberal establishment of their own party as they were against the conservatism of Nixon. The ultimate irony, of course, is that from a policy perspective, Nixon was in many ways a liberal... Clean Air and Water Act, wage/price controls, a continuation of the war in Vietnam with a view to eventual disengagement, etc.
Now flash forward to 2008 and consider how similar the situation is: In 2008 the conservative-centrist-establishment wing got to nominate its candidate (John McCain), who then got soundly beaten by Obama. Anathema to everything that post-Reagan conservatism represents, Obama was elected in 2008 mainly because voters were disgusted by the colossal mess that his conservative predecessor had made. The resulting fingerpointing on the right has produced the vicious fight we are currently witnessing between the conservative-centrist-establishment wing of the GOP and its scary rightwing base -- of which the Crist/Rubio battle in Florida is emblematic. Just as the Democrats were in Nixon's first term, the Republicans are now, as I mentioned up top, in full-scale circular firing squad mode, fighting over ideological litmus tests as well as practical electoral tactics, and also revolting against Obama's policies. Low-level domestic terrorism seems a possible eventual result, and indeed may already have begun to emerge. Finally, one strongly suspects that the current Tea Party behavior and thuggishness will taint the conservative "brand" in a permanent way -- again ironic, given the fact that the rightwing extremists are as much in revolt against the moderates of their own party as they are against the liberalism of Obama. And again, the ultimate irony is that from a policy perspective, Obama is in many ways a conservative... his health care bill, for example, is basically a clone of Mitt Romney's Massachusetts bill (let's not mention his conduct of the ongoing wars...).
So, what does this historical parallel tell us about what might happen next? First, it tells you that the conservatives are likely in 2012 to follow the path that the Democrats did during the 1972 -- nominating a base-pleasing but unelectable candidate. She will lose catastrophically, which will only exacerbate the intra-party hatreds. Second, it tells you that the fight for the soul of the Republican Party is likely to go on for a long time, and that it will be very ugly and that it will leave lasting scars and resentments. Third, it tells you that conservatives have a very long way to go before they can come up with any remotely appealing original ideas about governance, much less reasonable ideas about how to solve the messes that their policies made.