An Identity Crisis For Republicans

Judging from the CBS/New York Times poll released yesterday, Republican primary voters are having a real identity crisis. They've got about eight candidates running--and still counting--and yet 57 percent wish there were more choices. They're worried that the party has drifted away from the principles of Ronald Reagan. The only issue that unites Republicans, in fact, is the enemy: the Clintons.

So it's no surprise to learn that each of the top-tier candidates is having problems: Rudy with his three marriages and family issues, McCain still not trusted by conservatives, and Romney tagged as a serial flip- flopper. What's interesting is that there seems to be another group of potential candidates hanging back in the weeds, watching the top guys--hoping they kill each other off so the latecomers can jump in.

Call it the Wait-and-See Club--the candidates who have decided not to run for 20 months but let the other guys do it, and see how it goes. The latest to join the club is Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, the leading antiwar critic in the GOP. He's holding off, he says. So, too, is former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson. He left the Senate in 2002 but has since become famous as the Scotch-sipping DA on Law & Order. He's thinking about a run, he says--but has to see how things play out.

Then there's Newt Gingrich. He's a busy guy, giving speeches, writing policy tomes. He got a great reception at a conservative gathering the other day--and he's ready to jump in as the true conservative in the race, if one is needed. If you read the polls, conservatives might just want to take him up on the offer.

By Gloria Borger