WASHINGTON -- Thus far, the maddening Republican storyline in the presidential election cycle is complicating the party's prospects of winning back the White House in 2012.
A clear majority of the American people disapprove of the job President Obama is doing, particularly on jobs and the economy, but the GOP's rank-and-file remains deeply divided over who their nominee should be.
Actually, they are worse than divided, which is not unusual in a large field of candidates. Some Republicans, if not many, do not like the choices they have and are looking around for a new contender to enter the presidential primary race in the 13 months before our nation goes to the polls next year.
That has left many uncommitted Americans on the sidelines, including campaign donors whose contributions will be critical to any serious bid for the White House.
The postwar history of presidential politics is clear on what it takes to win: plenty of time, preparation and money to mount a nationwide organization in all 50 states. This is not a game where a candidate can jump in at the 11th hour -- especially a candidate, no matter how worthy, who is not widely known.
For all practical purposes, the Republican race for the nomination has come down to two contenders, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
But there are others with sizable followings, including Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, backed by his die-hard libertarian supporters, and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who draws strength from the Christian right, and even dark-horse business executive Herman Cain, who pulled an upset in the Florida straw poll, beating Perry and Romney by large margins.
Making the GOP's battle even more intense is the issue of party purity, which is expected in Republican primaries. But it has been become a more divisive issue this time, fueled in large part by the tea party conservatives who demonstrated their power in the 2010 midterm elections by toppling House Democrats from power.
In this case, though, it turns out that political purity, at least among the front-runners, is hard to find.
The newest example of this is Chris Christie, the blunt, tough-talking, take-no-prisoners New Jersey governor who made his reputation as a U.S. attorney who put a number of crooked officials -- Democrats and Republicans -- behind bars. In his first year and a half, he has balanced the state's budget, capped property taxes, cut retirement benefits for teachers and state employees, all without raising taxes.