At the OpinionJournal today, Brendan Miniter discusses how the deepening crisis within the GOP has reached Texas, where the state's House Speaker - and Tom Delay's proxy in the mid-term redistricting caper - Tom Craddick only barely managed to survive a coup attempt led by Democrats and moderate Republicans.
Even deep in the heart of Texas, these days the Republican Party is finding itself divided and on the defensive. Mr. Craddick survived the attempted coup after a protracted fight that dragged into the early evening. But last month seven-term Republican Rep. Henry Bonilla wasn't as fortunate. He was unseated by Democrat Ciro Rodriguez in a special election that grew out of a Supreme Court decision amending the Craddick-DeLay redistricting map. And in November Democrat Nick Lampson defeated a Republican write-in candidate for Mr. DeLay's old seat in the Houston suburbs. Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, was re-elected, but only after running the gantlet in a four-way competitive race in which he received a 39% plurality. It's no wonder that for nearly two months liberal politicos have been celebrating the end of conservatism.The political map is part of the problem. With the GOP nearly extinguished in the Northeast, and the battleground shifting to the West, the contradiction between the Republicans' coddled Christian fundamentalist base and its increasingly alienated libertarian constituency - the latter being critical to electoral success in the interior West - threatens to tear another hole in the party.
Liberal commentator Jacob Weisberg, writing in Slate in November, went a step further. Positing the end of the "conservative era," he wondered "what will replace it?" He's not alone. Commentators on the right are also wondering what the future holds--it's what happens when a party loses its principles and splits along sectarian lines.
[I]f ... religious conservatives are costing the GOP mountain conservatives, then it's hard to see how the Republican Party avoids a pitched battle for its soul. Values voters lay claim to the last electoral victory for the party--President Bush's re-election in 2004--and Christian conservatives have long had a strong hand in judicial politics on the right. Economic conservatives lay claim to the victories of Newt Gingrich and Ronald Reagan.All of this is developing in two shadows: one growing, the other already long. The first is a Republican presidential primary contest in which all three front runners will be deeply flawed, from the Christian right's perspective, even as each desperately seeks to secure that vital fundamentalist support while not compromising their positions in a general election likely to be determined by voters fed up with the Republicans' long march to the right.
The last president from Texas who found himself mired in an unpopular war--Lyndon B. Johnson--also presided over a divided party. He left Democrats incapable of capturing the voting public's imagination in national elections, which allowed the GOP to win control of the White House for five of six elections beginning in 1968.Miniter argues that Bush is still attempting to avoid LBJ's fate - and that "winning the war is now a decisive issue."