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December 23, 2007
Will the New Year Bring Unity to the GOP?
On every Republican's Christmas gift list this year is a hope that somehow, someway, the various factions that make up the successful coalition that controlled Congress for more than a decade and has won the last two presidential elections can be put back together in time to successfully challenge a much more united and determined Democratic party.
Among members of Congress, the lobbying shops on K Street and the local GOP committees in Iowa and New Hampshire, Republicans are divided, confused and sometimes demoralized about their choices for president. And there is genuine anger between several factions of the Republican party. Traditional and libertarian conservatives can't abide Mike Huckabee's religiosity and left leaning economic ideas. Social conservatives can't stand Rudy Giuliani's more liberal stands on abortion and gay marriage. And nobody really trusts Mitt Romney who governed as a centrist in Massacussets but who appears to be something of a born again conservative in his race for the nomination.
With less than two weeks left before voting begins, the party's rank and file are being asked to ratify a new direction for the GOP amid the clash of a chaotic and wide-open campaign. And the party's soul-searching is unfolding in a sour environment: two states where the GOP was walloped by Democrats in 2006, leaving the surviving Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire grappling with an identity crisis of their own. In dozens of interviews last week, many Republicans said they are frustrated.
"I'm homeless," said Jack Kemp, a former congressman and housing secretary in President George H.W. Bush's administration and the party's vice presidential nominee in 1996. "There isn't that Reagan sense of optimism, of an inclusionary Republican Party." There is the real possibility that the first 4 GOP primaries could see 4 different winners - a situation that would throw the party into even more confusion than it is enduring already. And even political professionals are beginning to speculate that there is a remote chance for a brokered convention - something that would be an absolute disaster for the party.
"It's about as clear as mud," said Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.), who has talked to Giuliani and has met with Romney and former senator Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.) but remains undecided.
For conservatives, the flaws of each major candidate are just too glaring, GOP lawmakers say. Giuliani tends to win them on economic issues, but they cannot get by his stand on social issues. They like Huckabee on the social agenda, but do not trust his economic stands. They like the Romney they see now, but they cannot forget the positions he once embraced in Massachusetts. And they dislike McCain's opposition to Bush's first-term tax cuts and his crusade to overhaul campaign finance laws.
No wonder rank and file Republicans are acting depressed. The powerful urge to unify the party just isn't evident this time around and the chances for a real split - as happened in 1964 between Goldwater conservatives and Rockefeller moderates - are becoming greater all the time.