As Hatch Waves Good-bye, Bush Checks His Gut

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The right wing of the Republican party just got a little less fractured — and that could spell bad news for George W. Bush, who's quickly learning how large a gap there is between the "compassionate" and "conservative" portions of the party he's trying to unify. Before Monday's Iowa caucuses, the party's divide was clear — moderates Bush and McCain hugged the middle, while a right-leaning field of four tried to keep the party true to its conservative stripes. But out of this foursome, only the candidate with the sharpest tongue and the one with the deepest pockets were able to weather the caucus storm in the Hawkeye State. Orrin Hatch, the soft-spoken senator from Utah, became the first casualty of the primary season when he dropped out of the running after taking just 1 percent of the Iowa vote. The next hopeful likely to be looking for the exits: Gary Bauer, who garnered just 6 percent.

Still, the caucus was a major victory for conservative Republicans, as voters were captivated by Alan Keyes' straight talk and Steve Forbes' glossy attack ads on Bush. If and when Bauer goes, Forbes and Keyes will try to force the other two to prove that conservatism still means more to the party than merely reclaiming the White House does.

So now Bush has to continue to appeal to the McCain voters, centrists who are attracted to the Arizona maverick's calls for campaign finance reform and using budget surpluses to pay down the national debt. At the same time, Bush is getting his wake-up call from the religious right, in the form of Keyes and, to a lesser extent, Forbes. New Hampshire, which has a smaller ultraconservative contingent than Iowa, should offer a better view of just how much Forbes and Keyes will test W.'s mettle. If he's lucky, the conservatives will fade away before he alienates the compassionates.