End of the GOP as We Know It? Maybe

The votes have not yet even been cast, let alone counted, yet, many worried Republicans are fearful that Nov. 4 will bring not just the defeat of John McCain, but the veritable death of the Republican Party as they know it.

Republicans are bracing for the possibility of a crippling loss come Election Day, in which they would both relinquish the White House and allow Democrats to maintain their control of Congress.

McCain could pull off a come-from-behind victory next Tuesday, but already, GOP fingers are being pointed and stock is being taken. Some pessimistic Republicans believe the party, as it exists on Election Day, will not remain the same come Nov. 5.

"John McCain is dragging a bloated corpse around with him. Something will have to change. The party's soul is at stake," said ABC News consultant Richard Norton Smith, the former director of the Lincoln, Hoover, Eisenhower, Reagan and Ford presidential libraries.

What is looming for many Republicans is a fight over which wing of the party will wrest control of the GOP's mantle, right wing social and fiscal conservatives, like Newt Gingrich, evangelical Christians, like Mike Huckabee, or moderate Republicans, like Rudy Giuliani.

For the past 40 years, the GOP's success has come from a broad coalition of conservatives. Evangelical Christians who have pushed a pro-life, values-based agenda have made strange but powerful bedfellows of libertarians and fiscal conservatives who want small government and a laissez-faire approach to their lives and finances. Isolationists who do not support U.S. intervention in foreign affairs have supported and voted for the same candidates backed by neo-conservatives who believe the U.S. has the right to extend its power anywhere in the world.

That coalition, which experts say has been fraying for years, could ultimately be undone by this election. Each faction believes it represents the soul of the party and each is jockeying to become the base on which the party's new incarnation should be built.

McCain and Republican Party: A Failed Election?

"The Republican Party and the conservative coalition is an unstable compound that has been coming apart for several years," Smith said. "The immigration debate illustrated that dramatically and the infighting around the Wall Street bailout even more so. Pat Buchanan isolationist Republicans have little in common with Wall Street Republicans, and libertarian Republicans have little in common with the religious right."

"The party will have to decide which of those strains will revive the party and lead it into the future." he said.

The contemporary coalition that comprises the party began with Richard Nixon courting conservative Southerners away from the Democratic Party and bringing the Western states, including California, into the tent. Reagan built on that foundation cementing the Christian right as the party's surest base and inspiring a generation of young conservatives.

Recent polls show the Democrats have encroached on what was once staunch Republican property. Barack Obama has made battlegrounds out of Virginia and North Carolina, and may be able to claim victory in one-time GOP strongholds like Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado. California has not voted for a Republican in a presidential election since 1988.

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