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The Grand Old Party in Crisis

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The Republican Party is going through some serious growing pains.

Something big is happening in the GOP race for the presidential nomination this year.

It is probably more significant in the long term than it appears.

When it is all said and done it will signify a monumental shift in the Republican party that could define it for generations to come.

The GOP or Grand Old Party is trying to re-invent itself by combining the Tea Party Movement, the Libertarians, the Religious Right and the establishment wing of the party into one big "Happy Family".

The only problem is many of these disparate group's strongly held views are diametrically opposed to strong beliefs of the others.

For example, the Religious Right wants the government to pass legislation that could affect the most private decisions in people's lives - who they may marry and whether they must bear children - while the libertarian's "hands off policies" take a totally opposite view.

The Democratic Party had undergone a similar metamorphosis a few decades ago when Lyndon Johnson championed the Civil Rights Act and as a result the Democrats lost the Southern vote for ever.

When this internal struggle is done the GOP will either come out bigger and stronger with a new agenda or it will fracture into its component parts.

This year's race has been so unpredictable in large part because these factions are struggling for dominance over the future of the Republican Party.

The Republican establishment wing of the GOP has long been the party of wealth, business and less government interference.

Their problem has always been the same, there are simply not enough of these voters to ever win in a general election.

As a result, in the past the GOP has had to broaden its appeal to win. The modern GOP has been victorious when their presidential candidates have been able to bring the religious conservatives into the fold.

This typically broadened their reach enough to include blue collar working class voters who shared those social values without sacrificing any of the main tenants of the establishment GOP that protect business and the rich.

This year that balancing act seems to have become almost impossible.

Their internal squabbling and discord may be the very reason they seem determined to snatch a defeat from the jaws of victory this coming November.

All of this internal turmoil explains why almost every one of the original candidates had their moment in the sun and then fizzled out like a small firecracker.

Throughout all of this Mitt Romney has been fighting to hold on as Top Dog of the GOP establishment.

Analysts and Republican strategists are not in agreement on exactly what the fickle nature of this GOP nomination process really means:

- that the GOP just can't fall in love with Romney;

- that the Religious Right is insisting on one of their own;

- that the Religious Right and the Libertarian and Tea Party wings of the GOP (who are diametrically opposed) cannot come together and settle on a nominee;

- that the GOP is fed up with negative ads;

- that the GOP can't decide among a group of "imperfect" choices as to which one is the best choice to beat Barack Obama

- that Mitt Romney still suffers from a lack of trust among the conservative base as to whether he is a "true believer"

Mitt Romney's supposed biggest strength is that he is a successful business leader and knows how to turn around a struggling economy.

As the US economy improves this argument may loose its appeal.

Last week, Rick Santorum surprised the establishment GOP, the pundits and virtually everyone else by unexpectedly winning the two non-binding caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota and a non-binding primary in Missouri.

His appeal is in part his non-Romneyesque campaign efforts.

Santorum is running with very little money and almost no on-the- ground operation.

He is relying on retail politics, the debates and other free media to get his message out....and it seems to be working in his favour.

His underdog victories could certainly earn him the nickname "Rocky" Santorum - managing against daunting odds and oodles of cash to come from behind.

He has also been the beneficiary of a brutal knock down - drag out fight waged in blistering ad wars between Romney with his
Super PAC "Restore Our Future" and Newt Gingrich and his Super PAC "Winning The Future".

Up till now Santorum has managed to stay out of the line of fire. But his turn may now have come.

He will be a more difficult target to attack than either Romney or Gingrich.

He is generally perceived as a "nice guy" who is a true conservative and actually "walks the walk".

As a result, a scorched earth approach against Santorum will probably backfire on the attacker.

He appeals mainly to religious and conservative purists. However, he will be a tough sell to independents, since many of his views are out of the mainstream.

Additionally, he has yet to win any races in the Deep South - a GOP stronghold where his Catholicism may in fact work against him.

Both Romney and Gingrich will have to selectively pick apart his record steering clear of his personal life - especially since he is a father of eight including a special needs child.

The Michigan Primary on 28 February is a must win for Romney - since he was born there and his father George was the Governor and made his fortune in the auto industry in that state.

In addition, the blue collar, working class, Catholic appeal Santorum has with the Michigan voters could mean disaster for Romney if "Rocky" Santorum causes another upset victory.

Ironically, President Obama may end up being the first president to be re-elected with such a high unemployment rate - due in no small part to the dysfunction and disarray of the Republican opposition.

The same forces within the Republican Party that have refused to compromise and legislate along with this administration seem to be unwilling to accept a candidate that does not adhere to their fundamental conservative principles.

This bitter battle for the hearts and minds of the Republican base is pushing their potential nominee so far to the right that he may need a neon trial of bread crumbs to help with find his way back to the center - where elections are always won.

This blog can also be read on Sky News