Will GOP Infighting Give Dems the Edge in 2008?

There are people asking me, "Why do you think Hillary Clinton's got 80% chance?"  Well, because of what's happening to the Republican Party right now.  I hate to use the word war, but I mean there's going to be a battle within the Republican Party for who controls it, who defines it and who shapes it.  The country club blue-blood types or the conservatives.  Make no mistake about it, the country club blue-blooders have resented the conservative dominance of their party for as long as Ronald Reagan brought it about ~ Rush Limbaugh
Conservatives are angry. Those who have continued to stand by President Bush through thick and thin feel that his support of Ted Kennedy's "comprehensive" immigration reform bill is not only a slap in the face to all Americans, but a slap in the face to the Republican base in particular. In reality, what's being called a reform bill amounts to amnesty (albeit a conditional one) for millions of illegal aliens who feel that their presence in America is a right, not a privilege, and the GOP base is not being backward about letting its thoughts be known.

Various headlines from the last couple years indicate that the rift is not new, but has been slowly gaining steam:
Conservatives, GOP Split on Illegal Workers - FOX News Online, February 22, 2005

Immigration tears Republicans in two - BBC News Online, May 17, 2006

Immigrant legislation splits GOP - Washington Post, May 18, 2007

Immigration reform debate puts up a wall within the GOP - Los Angeles Times, June 5, 2007
The worry, of course, is that Republicans will stay home on Election Day in 2008, in order to teach the elected politicians the lesson that they seemingly didn't learn in November of 2006. There is also at least some talk of the possibility of a new party rising from the GOP like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes.

Republicans should think long and hard before allowing their unhappiness with GOP leaders split the party, figuratively or literally. While there's nothing wrong with communicating displeasure with policy, the only ones who would benefit from a permanent rift within the GOP would be the Democrats, as they did nearly 100 years ago.

After declining to run for a third term in 1908 (at the time, the presidential term limit had not yet been enacted), Theodore Roosevelt presented William Howard Taft as his hand-picked successor to be nominated at the Republican convention. (This happened in the days before candidates were selected by the voters in primary elections.) He did so because although he wasn't going to run and he was afraid that his supporters might not vote for a candidate not endorsed by him in the general election, thus allowing a Democrat to win. Taft did win by a comfortable margin over his opponent, William Jennings Bryan, and Roosevelt went on a well-deserved trip abroad with his family. When he returned over a year later, he found that the Progressive wing of the GOP was unhappy with Taft, who thought his term thus far was not nearly as impressive as Roosevelt's stint had been.

The final straw for Roosevelt was when Taft filed a government anti-trust lawsuit against U.S. Steel. Roosevelt had previously promised financier J.P. Morgan that such a thing would not happen under the Sherman Act as long as U.S. Steel could keep the country out of an economic depression. That the lawsuit was filed on Roosevelt's birthday may or may not have aggravated the situation.

Giving in to Progressive pressure, Roosevelt agreed to run for the GOP nomination again in 1912. The former friends engaged in a heated contest, complete with schoolyard name calling and finger pointing, forcing Republicans to choose sides. Taft received the nomination at the convention in Chicago. Within hours, Roosevelt and his supporters had formed their own Progressive Party (nicknamed the Bull Moose Party), with Roosevelt as its presidential nominee.

The final outcome of the 1912 election was that the winner was neither Taft nor Roosevelt, but Democrat Woodrow Wilson. Afterward, Roosevelt convinced the Progressives to rejoin the GOP, but by then the damage was done. As a direct result of GOP bickering and feuding, they lost the White House. The same thing could very well happen today.

While it's all well and good for the party faithful to let their leaders know when they're unhappy, it's quite another to throw out the baby with the bathwater. If Republicans nurse a grudge over the immigration bill, this (combined with the anger of pro-lifers if someone like Rudy Giuliani is nominated) it could very well mean we can look forward to hearing State of the Nation addresses from either President Hillary Clinton or, less likely, President Barack Obama, both current front runners on the Democrat ticket. Even a President McCain (whom analysts believe could never garner the nomination) would be preferable to either.

President Bush and some Senate Republicans may be squandering the good will of the party faithful, but to penalize the party as a whole because a handful disappoints would indeed be folly, both in terms of national security and economic policy. Do Republicans really believe that such a "lesson" would be beneficial? Does the idea of Mrs. Bill Clinton's socialism appeal to them more than forgiving those whom they think have wronged them? If so, get ready for four to eight years of it.

But if eating crow doesn't sound appetizing to you, it's time to put a bandage on the boo-boo and get a Republican elected to the White House. There's a lot more hinging on this election than bruised egos.

Pamela Meister is proprietor of the website Blogmeister USA.