Video: GOP divided

By David Gregory Chief White House correspondent
NBC News
updated 4/27/2005 8:06:29 PM ET 2005-04-28T00:06:29

As President Bush is learning, the hard part about second-term politics is not your enemies, but your friends. And lately it's moderate Republicans giving the president the hardest time.

"I think the Republicans are more polarized then they ever have been," says Rep. Charlie Bass, R-N.H.

From the fight over Social Security, to the battle over John Bolton's nomination to the United Nations, to the fight over ending filibusters for judicial nominees and the GOP-led drive to intervene in the Terry Schiavo case, the White House appears out of step with Republican moderates.

"Many of the moderates feel that the party has moved too far to the right and that the conservatives have too much influence within the high councils of the party," says Marshall Whitman, who once worked for Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain and now runs the Democratic Leadership Council.

Bush's first term was marked by unprecedented party unity because of 9/11 and the party's determination to retain the White House. Now, some liberal analysts argue, moderates facing their own re-election are hearing concerns from their constituents.

"They see these arguments about what they see as weirdly ideological issues and they ask, 'Why is Washington obsessed with these things and not the things that I care about?'" says E.J. Dionne, a senior fellow in government studies at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank.

For the president, the consequences of these Republican defections are serious. On issues like Social Security, where there is unanimous Democratic opposition, Republican moderates hold the balance of power.

"The Republicans in Congress want to assist the president," says Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. "We might not agree with him on every issue, but by forging compromises we can help him advance his agenda."

"If the rhetoric were a little bit less heated, if there were a little bit less anger articulated in some ways by the Republican leadership, I think you'd find the moderates would fall back into line," says Republican consultant and pollster Frank Luntz.

Such friction is nothing new in a second term. Indeed, President Bill Clinton went through the same thing. Still, if it keeps on going this way, all the political capital Bush spoke of after his re-election may have to give way to compromise.

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