By all accounts, Michael Steele’s tenure as the head of the Republican Party has been a dismal failure.

During his first few weeks in office, Steele heavily criticized Rush Limbaugh and his ilk, only to be thoroughly throttled by his partymates, followed by a lavish ass-kissing of Rush on the GOP chair’s part. Emasculated, Steele has never quite recovered.

Now, there’s this bondage club scandal. Some are calling for his resignation. Others, like Newt Gingrich, are standing by Steele.

And to think, the GOP could have had former South Carolina Republican Party chair Katon Dawson as their big boss. But that’s not what the Republican Party choose to do. They went for the black guy instead of the guy who has been a member of an all-white, no-Jews country club in the Midlands of the Palmetto State. Clearly, they made the right choice. (OK, neither would have been the right choice. Steele’s coronation was nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction to the election of President Barack Obama.)

This dust up over Steele isn’t good for the GOP. But there’s something far worse on the horizon: a very nasty party split. And it has everything to do with the Tea Party, Ron Paul, and preserving the status quo in the Republican Party.

Right now, the GOP bigwigs are willing to court the folks that comprise the loose coalition that is the Tea Party. Listen to Hannity, Rush, or any of the others — and they’ll sing the praises of the Tea Party … at least for now. But the day is coming when that will change.

Hannity, for one, has seen the writing on the wall. And it scares him. Why? Hannity’s a supporter of business-as-usual, big-government folks like Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and the newly elected Sen. Scott Brown, guys that the Tea Party, if they stand on principal, should be against.

The Fox News host even devotes an entire chapter in his new book Conservative Victory to the Tea Party and one possible outcome of the grassroots political movement. It’s title? “To Be or Not to Be: A Third Party?”

He brings up the failed third party candidacy Ross Perot as an example:

My purpose isn’t to bash Ross Perot, who is a great American. It’s to illustrate that third-party movements can be very different from what they appear — and that difference sometimes doesn’t come to light until the election is over and it’s too late. The Perot movement was propelled by outrage over government waste and complexity, but if it had attained power and begun trying to implement its ideas, the result would have been utter chaos.

But the greatest danger of a third-party movement isn’t necessary what happens if they attain office. It’s what can happen if they gain enough momentum to siphon away votes from the party they’re more closely aligned with. After all, what was the most lasting contribution the Perot movement made to American politics? No, it wasn’t his stance on NAFTA, or his interest in updating the Constitution, or even his idea of the ‘electronic town hall.’ No, it was that he inadvertently delivered the White House to Bill Clinton.

Hannity’s solution? When the time comes, the folks in the Tea Party need to get off the streets, put an end to their protests, come back inside the not-so big tent of the Republican Party, and vote for who their masters in the GOP tell them to vote for.

Hmm. I don’t see that going so well.

See, the future of the Republican Party belongs to two men right now, Ron Paul and Jim DeMint, both of whom are more closely aligned with the Tea Party than any other nationally recognized members of the GOP. And that both aren’t on Hannity’s short list of GOP presidential contenders speaks volumes.

Think about it folks: What happens in 2012 when the Republican Party chooses Mitt Romney, or heaven forbid, Newt Gingrich, over Ron Paul or Jim DeMint, who seems increasingly likely to make a presidential run, especially after his announcement that he will limit himself to two terms in the Senate.

Yeah, I can’t imagine the Tea Partiers enthusiastically jumping behind either Romney or Newt. They may vote for the GOP candidate in the presidential race, but they won’t turn out in force.

So the GOP is in a tough spot. Either they pick a Paul or DeMint or they see their numbers drop in 2012.

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