The Republican party has come a long way from the stinging defeats of 1932 and '36, but still finds its path endangered by the hazards of disunity and internal bickering. Back in the pre-depression days of conservative overlordship, the G.O.P. bigwigs could generally convene annually for their state-of-the-party log-roll, point with pride at the balance of the budget, view with alarm the radical tendencies of the radicals in Congress, orate at length, and hibernate for another year.
But the meeting of the National Committee this year was no such folksy get-together. Long before the St. Louis scramble met, the strategists were hard at work pulling strings which would mean victory for one particular faction. Never before had the election of a national chairman meant so much, or been so vigorously contested. In 1928, the naming of the leader for the coming year was little more than a formality; last week in St. Louis it signified the completion of an internal breakdown that has tormented the Grand Old Party since the Philadelphia gallery broke all custom and practically nominated Wendell Willkie in 1940.
The selection of the Indiana liberal was a telling blow to the Robert Taft, Herbert Hoover, Alf Landon school of Old Guard conservatism. It came as a popular reaction against a policy that had cooly managed to avoid action during the early depression, that had humiliated the party in 1936, and had risen to hamstring preparedness. Clearly, the obstructionist conservatives were on the outs with the popular interests of the party, still the die-hards had fight left in them and set to work preparing for the second round.
The St. Louis convention was to be the setting for the revitalization of the Old Guard, and Taft and his mates carefully molded antagonism for Willkie with recent election gains to force the selection of a middle-of-the-road isolationist, Harrison Spangler, as national chairman. And in the same week, Taft busily announced support of John Bricker, another "balance the budget" bulwark for the 1944 nomination.
While the right claims victory on one hand, the Willkie wing, supported by recent Gallup polls, purports to hold the actual leadership of the party. In one corner the Spangler-Taft-Bricker coalition prepares to wrest the coming nomination, while the Willkie-Stassen group marshals its strength for the 1944 test. As a result, the present Congress lacks the critical eye of a unified minority, and the Old Guard continues to approach their old level of influence.
The decision rests squarely on the shoulders of party leaders of both camps. Certainly there can be no benefit from division, especially in the ranks of the minority group. The all-out struggle for final domination, the 1944 convention, will determine whether the lessons of G.O.P. defeat have been absorbed, or whether the surge of the conservatives has carried them to control. In the meantime the nation's "loyal opposition" must be split down the middle, with both liberal and conservative elements contributing to the eventual weakening of the Republican candidacy in the next presidential campaign.