Republicans Struggle to Unite in the Obama Era

Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and Dick Cheney are all controversial figures in the GOP.

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Gingrich is full of ideas and brio, but his failure to maintain GOP momentum when he was House speaker in the mid-1990s undermines his claim to be the conservative of the future. Limbaugh is bombastic and entertaining and draws lots of attention, but he has shown no interest in running for office. Cheney has made some effective arguments in defense of Bush administration national security policies, but he remains deeply unpopular with independents and Democratic voters. Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts and an also-ran in the 2008 GOP presidential race, has been working behind the scenes to cultivate grass-roots support, but many Republicans still wonder if he is a genuine conservative and whether he can bond with everyday voters.

Meanwhile, GOP leaders in Congress such as Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Rep. John Boehner of Ohio haven't gained much traction with their critique of Obama as a big-spending liberal who is weak on defense and a neophyte in foreign policy. These are the same criticisms the Republicans have directed at the Democrats for years. Americans are indeed worried about some of Obama's policies but so far haven't converted these concerns about Obama into support for the GOP.

Of course, nearly five years ago, the Democrats were in the same boat. The White House and Congress were controlled by the GOP. The Democratic nominee, Sen. John Kerry, lost the presidential race to George W. Bush. And myriad Democratic voices were clamoring to be heard. "It's difficult when you don't have a president in office," says a senior Obama adviser, because a commander in chief tends to create unity in his party.

Frank Donatelli, chairman of GOPAC, a conservative political action committee, and former political director for President Reagan, adds that there is no permanent majority in American politics. He predicts that the GOP will make a comeback when the political pendulum swings to the right again, either because the Republicans manage to capture the country's imagination or because Obama falls flat.

But until that happens, chances are that Republican divisions will only get worse.

  • See Obama's powerful opposition.
  • Read 10 Things You Didn't Know About Sarah Palin.
  • See photos of Sarah Palin.