My personal musings about anything that gets on my radar screen--heavily dominated by politics.


Real Trouble, Wishful Thinking, or Something Else?

To read the headline and the lede, you would imagine it's the first thing.

A cultural war that has been brewing within the Republican Party for years is threatening to split the state GOP at a time when it needs unity to retain the governorship and take back the statehouse.

The divide between social conservatives and moderates in the party - exacerbated by infighting over Referendums C and D - appears ready to widen as the two factions fight over who should set the agenda.

It is certainly true that in the wake of losing the state house, the Senate seat, and the 4CD two years ago, and not being able to unite on C&D, the state GOP appears to be in an unusual position of weakness headed into 2006. Couple that with what appears to be shaping up as a fairly ugly primary battle for governor and the demonstrated strength of the Democratss at putting money where it needs to be, and its possible that you have a "perfect storm" brewing.

But I tend not to be so pessimistic. In the first place, the two highest elected Republicans in the state both downplayed the significance of the "rift" (Gov. Owens and Minority Leader Stengel); in the second place, much of the GOP strength in the 90s was a reflection not of cultural issues but of statewide economic prosperity--it was easy for small-government types to get elected on economic issues in a boom. That is to say, the cultural issues weren't the ones that led to GOP gains, and probably will only play a small role in the GOP effort in 2006.

It seems that for most of my lifetime the state has been an electoral enigma--GOP legislature with Dem governor, split Senate seats and divided House representation. The GOP won't be so surprised by the money this time around, won't have an open Senate seat to defend, and will have someone at the top of the ticket pulling the party along. I don't see the "rift" as all that dramatic or crippling.

That said, one caveat: the party obviously needs someone to step up and take a leadership role. It isn't the whole moderate/conservative split that needs mending, its that the infrastructure of the party has been neglected and there is no party discipline. Both are characteristics of people accustomed to easy power, as the GOP enjoyed in the 90s. It's time for a little humility, a little understanding of message unification, and a little common sense about governing. If nobody steps forward to lead the way on those three points, then the party may just make a backyard swimming pool of a problem into that perfect storm.

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