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Will Conservative Leaders Secede From GOP?

It turns out, much that has been reported about a possible 3rd party conservative challenge to the GOP has been incorrect.  At least, that's what I am surmising, based on my
interview last night with a reliable source, conservative leader Richard Viguerie.

First, Viguerie told me that the meeting was not about stopping Rudy Giuliani, specifically.  This differs from early accounts, which implied conservatives would only launch this effort if Giuliani were to win the nomination (this makes me wonder if this rumor was spread by anti-Giuliani forces). 

One also wonders if Newt Gingrich's decision not to run, coupled with Fred Thompson's disappointing meeting with a group of conservative leaders known as the Arlington Group last week contributed to this decision.  Could it be that conservative leaders were hoping to avoid starting a 3rd party, but Fred floundered and then Newt didn't get in? 

The timing is curious.

When I first heard of this effort, I assumed it was a short-term ad hoc effort to stop Giuliani.  My guess was that conservatives would field a washed-up conservative "sacrificial lamb" who might get a couple percentage points of the vote (just to make their point). 

But what Viguerie described to me last night is a new permanent realignment, in which a separate conservative party would secede from the GOP.  Of course, this has much more serious implications than a short-term scenario ...

Will it happen?  Is it just a threat?  It's too early to tell.  But this could get interesting.

Update: 8:53 - Blogs for Fred Thompson notes this isn't the first call for a 3rd party.

Update: 9:54 - NRO has this excerpt from Hardball: Tony Perkins on Rudy.

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