Despite former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's lead in the polls, Republican insiders say the GOP base is so divided and Giuliani's ascension is so fragile that the party's presidential nomination for 2008 is totally up for grabs.
"I've never seen the party so split," says a GOP strategist with close ties to evangelical Christians. Giuliani, despite his strong image from 9/11, consistently falls well short of a majority. The latest CNN survey gives him a 34-18 lead over John McCain in the race for the Republican nomination.
"Contrary to the view inside the Beltway," the strategist says, "we don't have anybody who is the torch bearer or who is remotely agreed upon." There is also a growing belief among social conservatives that the race isn't starting too early, as some pundits and White House political architect Karl Rove have said.
Instead, the GOP rank and file welcomes the early start of the campaign because they will need a long time to assess all the candidates and see how they operate under pressure. Many social conservative activists argue that Giuliani's lead in the polls will begin melting away as the year wears on and as conservatives scrutinize his liberal record on abortion, gun control, and gay rights.
"For very good reasons, the base will say 'no thanks' to Rudy," says the strategist. "Eventually there will be a reckoning." He sees the start of that reckoning in the negative ripples among religious conservatives caused by recent news stories about the distant relationship between Giuliani and his son and about Giuliani's three marriages.
By Kenneth T. Walsh