But there are several worthwhile reports this morning that point to the broader problem for the GOP -- it's not just that their presidential field is unimpressive, it's that the fissures between the party's various factions are quickly becoming chasms.
The long-standing coalition of social, economic and national security conservatives that elevated the Republican Party to political dominance has become so splintered by the presidential primary campaign that some party leaders fear a protracted nomination fight that could hobble the eventual nominee. [...]That instability has fueled fears that if a winner does not quickly emerge in a primary calendar loaded with contests in January and early February, a prolonged primary fight could delay the GOP's focus on election day in a campaign in which Democratic voters already have contributed more money and, according to several polls, expressed greater satisfaction with their choice of presidential contenders.
The WSJ's Jackie Calmes and Ross Douthat are thinking along the same lines.
Business interests, the religious right, and defense hawks have been kept together under the Republicans' umbrella with smoke, mirrors, and chewing gum for the better part of a generation. But now the factions are drawing lines in the sand, and making clear who they won't vote for -- business interests won't tolerate Huckabee, the religious right rejects McCain or Giuliani, and hawks look askance at everyone but McCain or Giuliani. Romney has tried for a year to tell all the constituencies that he's with them, but given that he felt the opposite up until fairly recently, no one seems to believe him.
Granted, this isn't the first time talk of a GOP "identity crisis" has emerged, but I'd argue it's probably the most credible. The Republican factions used to be able to largely ignore one another; now they're actively hoping to defeat one another, and there's no presidential candidate who can step up to keep the gang together.
Yes, this can change. Once there's a nominee, and once Dems offer the GOP a specific target, the factions tend to settle down and get back together.
But I'd argue that more so than in any cycle in recent history, this seems far less likely now. And with no frontrunner, and the possibility of a protracted nominating process, this may very well get ugly and leave the coalition in tatters.