Could A Third Party Fracture The GOP In 2012?

Ron Klain writes that Republican discord may result in a strong third party candidate and a divided conservative electorate in his new column, “Republicans May Be Trampled By Bull Moose Revival:”

Last week, President Barack Obama gave a speech whose location, tone and language consciously evoked an address by Theodore Roosevelt at the outset of the 1912 presidential campaign. The deliberate historical echo, however, raised an intriguing question: Will Obama’s 2012 effort bear a closer resemblance to the one waged by Woodrow Wilson, Roosevelt’s opponent, than to the race run by TR himself?

Observers have noted the many similarities between Obama and Wilson. Both were scholarly, brilliant, and accomplished authors before becoming president. Both drew political strength from their gifts as speakers, and relied far less on conventional political attributes, such as an aptitude for backslapping and schmoozing. Both came from the reformist wing of their party, with little support from the insiders.

But the most intriguing similarity has only begun to take shape in recent weeks: Like Wilson in 1912, Obama may face a Republican Party that is unable to unite behind a single choice and whose voters would have to choose between two candidates on the ballot in the fall.

In 1912, conservative Republicans refused to support the nomination of the party’s most popular figure — former President Teddy Roosevelt — and instead backed the preferred candidate of the right wing: incumbent President William Howard Taft. Roosevelt then ran as a third-party candidate, divided the Republican vote with Taft, and Wilson, the Democratic nominee, won an Electoral College landslide.

Could a similar scenario unfold next year?

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