In recent history, Democrats have been the party of disorder and confusion in the ranks. To their House of Commons, Republicans have been the House of Lords. That has typically meant an orderly line of succession, with one establishment candidate after the other stepping up to claim their chance at the presidential prize: Ronald Reagan in 1980, his vice president George Bush in 1988, Bob Dole in 1996, the younger George Bush in 2000.
Not so this year. Republicans have a national front-runner (Rudy Giuliani), an Iowa-New Hampshire front-runner (Mitt Romney), and a conservative front-runner (Fred Thompson).
Moreover, Republicans are uncommonly uncertain about the right formula for winning next year. Are social conservatives still the grass-roots engine for GOP success? Is the broad appeal of tax cuts the smartest strategy? Or is national security -- Giuliani's 9-11 card -- the ultimate trump in an election that otherwise looks so daunting?
Primary voters will begin rendering their verdict in less than three months. But from their answers in tonight's debate, we'll get some clues as to what the GOP candidates and their strategists think the answers are.
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