01/29/2012 03:47 pm ET Updated Mar 30, 2012

The Republican Nightmare: A Third and Fourth Party?

As one assesses the Republican primary race, it seems increasingly evident that Mitt Romney will win the party's presidential nomination. But he will be inheriting a fractured party.

The Tea Party activists have over the past months all but declared that they detest Romney and won't forgive him because of his establishment credentials and moderate views. Herman Cain's recent endorsement of Newt Gingrich is one example of this. The heroine of the Republican right-wing, Sarah Palin, has come out and publicly backed Gingrich. So has one-time presidential contender, Texas governor Rick Perry. Is Rick Santorum next? And influential radio broadcaster Rush Limbaugh, while not outright endorsing Gingrich, is attacking Romney's advertising assaults against Gingrich.

Can Romney ever hope to woo this crowd back to his side? The animus between the two sides may be too great. And Romney, no matter what he does or says, seems incapable of winning over this group. It might even be possible that the Tea Party will, in the end, nominate their own candidate for the 2012 race rather than embrace a "pseudo-Republican" like Romney, even if that means that Romney goes down to defeat -- or maybe because it does mean he will go down to defeat.

And what about Ron Paul? Because of his own foreign policy heresies -- in particular, his crypto-isolationism and his gold-standard fantasies -- Paul does not really fit the Tea Party profile, but, with his own idiosyncratic following of Republicans, wayward Democrats and solitary independents, he might himself conceivably jump in and run on the ticket of his own making, figuring a splintered field could make him the winner.

This set of events has to be a Republican nightmare.