Feb. 28, 2013 -- A growing split in the Republican Party deepened today when Clint Eastwood, the movie star who rocked the GOP convention by interviewing an invisible President Obama, joined the ranks of Republicans who are in favor of legalizing gay marriage.
The support for gay marriage by Eastwood and about 100 prominent Republicans, along with budding support within the party for immigration reform, is creating an obvious divide in the party. It pits moderate Republicans and party operatives on one side against conservative activists who drive turnout in the primary elections.
One of the four former Republican governors who signed the legal brief in favor of same sex marriage is ex-New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman who she says there are days she "absolutely" doesn't feel like part of the party because she says the GOP is being "defined by the talking heads and they don't for the most part represent me."
Another Republican who is taking on some conservative elements in the party is Carlos Gutierrez, the former commerce secretary under George W. Bush. Gutierrez announced last week he is forming a new super PAC "Republicans for Immigration Reform."
Gutierrez says there are House members who "understand we have to fix the problem" of immigration, but "the concern is they get primaried or have a primary challenger from the right who throws out the word amnesty, which is so easy to do."
"We will be very involved in the primary process for the House to give members cover…If they have a rival from the right screaming amnesty or a primary challenger from the right screaming amnesty, those are the people we want to cover, we want to support and if that means going after the challenger that is screaming amnesty we will do that," Gutierrez told ABC News.
Gutierrez says Mitt Romney's comments during the Republican primary that undocumented aliens should "self-deport" clearly hurt him and he was questioned about it well into the general election. When asked if the primary system, which is dominated by grassroots conservatives, is broken Gutierrez said yes calling it a "crazy system."
"To think in this day and age in 24 hour media coverage you can run and say far right policies and then for the national election sneak back in the center and nobody notices, you can't do that," Gutierrez said.
Clint Eastwood Joins Republicans for Gay Marriage
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a possible presidential contender four years from now, also said today the GOP needs to change the way it appeals to Hispanic voters.
"We cannot expect to get support from the Latino community if we don't make the Latino community feel welcome and important in our party," Christie said while accepting the endorsement of a group of Latino leaders, according to the Newark Star Ledger. "Everyone here in the Latino community, a community that is steeped in faith, understands that our faith in the country comes from the power of the individual to be able to pursue their faith openly, vigorously, and in a way they believe helps to build and strengthen their families."
Christie added: "Now with all those agreements why is it that over 70 percent of the Latino community in the last national election voted for the other party?"
The New Jersey governor is a glaring example of litmus test conservatism when it was revealed this week that he is not being invited to the Conservative Political Action Conference, a confab of conservative activists next month.
Christie is one of the most popular governors in the country and widely thought to be eyeing the 2016 presidential race. But he has angered conservatives after he blasted House Speaker John Boehner for adjourning the House without approving a $60 billion relief package for the victims of superstorm Sandy.
Christie also angered some Republicans when just one week before the presidential election he praised President Obama's handling of the storm, which slammed into his state on Oct. 29.
Whitman, one of the four former Republican governors who signed the legal brief in favor of same sex marriage, said she was "blown away by those who criticized [Christie] so severely for embracing the president."
"He did what you elect a governor to do. He was not acting like a politician," Whitman said.
Whitman said the problem with moderates in the party's tug-of-war is "they tend to be more moderate."
"We have a responsibility to not allow ourselves to be drowned out," Whitman said. "Let them know when senators and those in Congress work across the aisle or Chris Christie stands up…(that) this is what we want. This is what we expect of our elected leaders."
Whitman said she signed the gay marriage brief because it's important to be heard and it's an opportunity to get this issue behind us."
"We are talking about family values, we are talking about commitment that so many people hold in such high regard it shouldn't make a difference if it's between a man and a woman or two men or two women," Whitman said. "We are the party of family values and limited government. Getting out of the bedroom is a good first step."
Whitman, who is also the former administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, said the purist conservatives are statistically a smaller number of people in the party, but are the loudest because of their role in the party's primaries where voter turnout can be very low.
"It allows the most partisan people the first say in who your choices…and because they are the most partisan they are going to choose the most partisan people," Whitman said. "They have influence beyond their numbers."
Margaret Hoover, a GOP strategist and former George W. Bush staffer who signed the brief, agrees with Whitman, but said she always feels like a member of the party because she is "totally committed to changing it."
"You can leave or you can change it and frankly we are having a lot of success changing it," Hoover said. "We are making it truer to our principals and we are calling out the people who claim to be for individual freedom."
Hoover said she thinks the people "gearing up for civil war" are the "social conservatives who insist on purity tests," but there are "other elements of the party that are quickly trying to tamp that down and pivoting to, 'No we are going to be the party of the big tent.' We are going to get back to being a big tent party on social issues. We will be strict on fiscal issues."
"It's fair to say that increasingly behind the scenes Republicans are saying we have to be a big tent on social issues. Social conservative activists are going to hate that, (American Conservative Union president) Al Cardenas is going to hate that and his people are going to hate that, but that's not the reality," Hoover said.