Republicans are in a fix. Here's why:
Conservative Republicans don't care for John McCain, their party's presumptive presidential nominee. GOP voter turnout has been pathetic during this primary season. There is no excitement.
The party's political base is splintered. Evangelical Christians and cultural conservatives, fiscal conservatives and party regulars are competing for attention. In addition, there is a growing sense of resignation among Republicans that no matter what they say or do - or whom they nominate for president - 2008 is going to be a Democrat's year.
Bottom line? The GOP is in complete disarray.
McCain, the U.S. senator from Arizona, sought to allay the fears of skeptical conservatives during a high-profile meeting last week of the Conservative Political Action Committee. But many conservatives don't trust McCain. Some loathe him. Many remember McCain's 2000 primary contest against George W. Bush in South Carolina. It was one of the most bitter contests ever witnessed by man. McCain was the moderate candidate in that race, reaching out to Democrats.
This year, conservatives tried and failed to stop McCain in his quest to win the GOP nomination. With growing frustration and an unaccustomed sense of impotence, many conservatives now have surveyed the battlefield and realized it is too late to stop McCain.
True, some prominent economic and social conservatives slowly have moved to McCain's side as his hold on the nomination has become more secure. But he still faces resistance from those who see his challenges to party orthodoxy on a range of issues - from campaign-finance reform to taxes and the environment - as a form of left-leaning betrayal.
Some show no signs of coming around to McCain. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, said under no circumstance would he vote for McCain. "I'm convinced that Sen. McCain is not a conservative, and in fact has gone out of his way to stick his thumb in the eyes of those who are," he said in a statement last week.
McCain's loudest critics have been conservative radio talk show hosts. Rush Limbaugh has devoted much of his airtime to arguing McCain's nomination would destroy the Republican Party. And Ann Coulter said last week she would support Democrat Hillary Clinton over McCain if the two faced off in the general election.
McCain called for a truce with unhappy conservatives but made it clear he wasn't ready to kiss any rings. "I do hope that, at some point, we would just calm down a little bit and see if there's areas we can agree on," McCain said. "Our message will be that we all share common principles, common conservative principles, and we should coalesce around those issues in which we are in agreement."
Conservative disdain for McCain runs deep, in large part due to his stand on illegal immigration. Other black marks?
McCain voted against President Bush's major tax cuts. He opposes a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. And he's not only willing but expresses an eagerness to work with Democrats in Congress.
Exit polls exposed McCain's lack of support from the GOP's far right - a weakness that alarms many Republicans. And McCain was booed by the Conservative Political Action Committee crowd last week when he brought up the subject of immigration reform.
Former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, known as "Mr. Conservative," said McCain didn't win many friends with his appearance. Laura Ingraham, a talk show host, wasn't impressed either with McCain.
It's one thing to say - as McCain has - that you were a foot soldier in the Reagan Revolution, she said. But, she added, the real question is, "What have you done lately for the conservative cause?"
"I think some people want to own the word conservative," said U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a prominent McCain supporter who also has been criticized within his own party for his positions on some issues, including immigration.
Graham's advice to McCain is to do what he has done his whole life: "Tell people who he is and what he believes."