Nagourney Finds More Reasons for G.O.P. Pessimism: Lack of Leadership, Tea Partiers, Etc., Etc....

Only the Times could find so many potential pitfalls for Republicans as they move to make gains in the 2010 congressional elections in a political environment that has brightened considerably in the past few months.

Chief political reporter Adam Nagourney's Sunday front-page report from the Republican National Committee meeting in Honolulu, "As the G.O.P. Hits Its Stride, Pitfalls Await - Behind the Jubilation, Rifts Over the Future."

Nagourney's latest tracks with last Monday's front-page story on the topic, co-written by Nagourney and Carl Hulse: "But the deeper intramural divisions are within the Republican Party, a sign of the intensity and unpredictability of the grass-roots conservative movement."

On Sunday, Nagourney issued his latest warning to Republicans they still could blow a golden opportunity, referencing the Tea Party movement. The Times' attitude toward the movement has shifted from the "angry" "fringe" to a threat to the G.O.P. worthy of respect.

Republican leaders burst into applause here the other day as their luncheon speaker, Gov. Linda Lingle of Hawaii, shared the latest analysis by a Washington Congressional handicapper: The way things are heading, she read, "you can count on the Democratic majority in the House being toast this fall."

But as the Republican National Committee ended its winter meeting here on Saturday, party leaders, if jubilant over a string of election victories and declining support for President Obama, were also questioning whether they could take full advantage of the opening Democrats had handed them.

At a moment of what appears to be great if unexpected opportunity, the Republican Party continues to struggle with disputes over ideology and tactics, as well as what party leaders say is an absence of strong figures to lead it back to power, from the party chairman to prospective presidential candidates.

From a sunny perch 5,000 miles from chilly Washington, the party leaders watched Republican members of Congress try to keep their balance as Mr. Obama sought to reclaim the mantle of reasonable bipartisanship in his State of the Union address on Wednesday night and his remarkable public debate in Baltimore with House members on Friday.

At stake, they knew, was the heart of the strategy they had pursued for the last year and had intended to carry into the midterm elections: remaining unified to block the White House at every turn, rallying the conservative base but leaving Republicans vulnerable to being portrayed as the obstructionist party of no.


But as the president was quick to point out, with a 41st vote in the Senate and the ability to block legislation through filibuster come pressure on Republicans to share in the political risks of making hard choices. "The responsibility to govern is now yours as well," Mr. Obama said in his State of the Union speech, a message that was certainly heard by party leaders here in Honolulu.

If Nagourney ever pushed the majority Democratic Congress to be bipartisan during the last two years of President Bush's tenure, I don't remember it.

But here in Honolulu, the strains within the party over conservative principles versus political pragmatism played out in a sharp and public way, especially as the party establishment struggled to deal with the demands of the Tea Party movement. Republican leaders succeeded in derailing a resolution proposed by conservatives, led by James Bopp Jr. of Indiana, which would have required candidates to agree to a list of conservative positions to get party support.

But the intensity of the divisions was put on display as Mr. Bopp and Bob Tiernan, the Republican chairman from Oregon, quarreled before reporters over whether the watered-down compromise had any real force.

After talking to retired conservative Congressman Dick Armey, who said that it was up to the Republicans to make themselves attractive to the Tea Party movement, not other way around, Nagourney ended with another dose of Republican pessimism:

Considering it was the grass-roots movement that helped lift Scott Brown to victory in the Massachusetts Senate race, losing that source of support would be a setback Mr. Steele presumably would not welcome at what would seem to be such an auspicious moment for his party.