The GOP just can't win. The Times has historicallycriticized the party for being too closely aligned with Big Business and Wall Street. But on Friday, reporter Jackie Calmes chidedtoday's Republicansfor being "rigidly ideological" in its opposition (at least until Friday afternoon) to bailing out Wall Street in "With Election Near, a Populist Strain Tugs at the Republican Party."
Known for more than a century as the nation's party of business, rooted in the industrial North and its affluent communities, the Republican Party has evolved over the last generation as its base moved to the South after the civil-rights era into a party that is defined more by social conservatism than business issues. On the economy, it is increasingly populist. And populists do not favor bailouts of Wall Street.
That rigidly ideological stance at a time of economic crisis reflects the Republican Party now dominant in the House as well as in many state legislatures. But it is causing strains in the party with those voters who are more moderate or pragmatic, including lifelong Republicans who have long identified with the party's reputation for economic stewardship of business.
"They're in the process of destroying the Republican brand as effective managers of the economy," said Vin Weber, a former congressman from Minnesota.
Especially in the South, Republican voters tend to be less affluent and less educated - and suspicious of big business - than mainstream Republicans of days past. The main fear of their representatives is a challenge from the party's far right. In the case of the financial bailout, the "right" position was to oppose it.
Business-oriented Republicans favor low taxes but many oppose the party's hard-line antitax stand. They say they would support higher taxes to reduce deficits, fix the roads and bridges needed for commerce, or relieve corporations of some of the costs of employees' health insurance. Voters from families that have been Republican for generations complain that their party has been taken over by social conservatives, many of them former Democrats in the South, and they do not share the newcomers' agenda of opposition to abortion, gay rights and liberalized immigration policies.
Republican strategists say the defection of the traditional business Republicans is especially worrisome if Senator Barack Obama succeeds in getting younger Americans to vote for him in greater numbers than their age group usually does. Some Republican Party leaders privately fear that if Mr. Obama is elected, he could usher in a pro-Democratic realignment much like Mr. Reagan did for Republicans after the economic stagnation and drift of the 1970s.