Republicans could pick up congressional seats this November but still face a dilemma that I'd hate to be the one to have to resolve. It's a classic one-hand, other-hand challenge, unless party leaders do the smart thing and rely on both hands.
Here's the first hand:
The GOP has the now-famous tea partiers pressing for less government and giving Republicans renewed life. As former Bush speechwriter Kasey Pipes wrote recently at Politico.com, they represent the old Goldwater wing of Republicanism: fiercely independent, fiercely libertarian.
A New York Times survey shows tea partiers are strongly anti-government, worried about the deficit and fairly affluent. These aren't populists rising out of America's working classes. They're older, educated and prosperous, like some Goldwaterites.
And despite not winning major offices, they're chipping away. They have the ear of governors like Texas' Rick Perry and congressional leaders like Sen. Mitch McConnell.
Here in red Texas, they just turned one of the most Republican counties, Collin, even more to the right. Candidates who played footsies with the tea party won primaries this spring for state representative and county judge, defeating more practical conservatives.
But while everyone seems focused on the tea party, here's the other hand:
There are a stunning 16 million Latino evangelicals nationwide, natural GOP recruits. Surveys show they lean Republican, although they're not solely Republican. (George W. Bush won most of them in 2004; Barack Obama prevailed among that group in 2008.)
They're conservative in a different way than tea partiers, generally more culturally and socially. This shows in their strong family connections and dedication to hard work.
Yet they aren't so conservative economically and believe in government much more than tea partiers. For example, some Latino evangelical leaders recently spoke out about actively confronting climate change.
And then there's the issue of immigration. A Latino evangelical minister I e-mailed with last week said Arizona's new law targeting illegal immigrants, which the state's GOP governor signed, won't help Republicans at all.
What, then, should the GOP do with these apparently conflicting constituencies?
They could pick one and go after it. In political science terms, that's the church model: Unite folks who think alike.
But that's risky. Historically, parties are more successful when they go the other way, the coalition route. FDR showed this by assembling a conflicting group of Democrats into a coalition that endured for about 50 years.
This is the route Republicans should go, too. Create a coalition that reaches constituencies as different as the tea party and Latino evangelicals.
Knitting them together will be dicey since one faction demands less government and the other supports more. But there's a way to do it, if party leaders can find the right issues. Here are three: Standing up against terrorism; modernizing immigration laws; and fighting for better schools.
Ronald Reagan created a sustainable coalition by aligning tax-cutters, culturally conservative blue-collar Democrats and national security hawks. They didn't always agree, but parts of his message about restoring America kept them together.
Of course, Democrats face their own challenge. Their liberal wing risks drawing the party further from the mainstream, which usually has been more center-right than center-left.
But Republicans have more to lose, if you accept the fact that parties cycle in and out of favor. Democrats took over Congress in 2006 and consolidated their power with the presidency in 2008. Even if they retain Congress this year and Obama won a second term, they're probably closer to the end of their reign.
Unless, that is, Republicans can't grab the cycle when it swings back. Some Republicans feel good about this fall, but creating a sustainable coalition is a different matter. That will require getting their two hands together.
William McKenzie is an editorial columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Readers may write to him at the Dallas Morning News, Communications Center, Dallas, Texas 75265; e-mail: email@example.com