A House Divided? GOP Ponders its Future

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WASHINGTON -- Presidents use election victories to claim mandates and Barack Obama is no different.

He's taking advantage of polls showing Americans support raising taxes on wealthy Americans. It has left conservatives divided and bickering.

A recent exchange between two staunch conservatives, Fox News host Sean Hannity and syndicated columnist Ann Coulter, on the fiscal cliff debate exposes that divide.

Hannity: "So I want to understand what you're saying -- for PR purposes that they should give in to Obama on the tax rates?

Coulter: Well, not exactly, but well, yes I am.

Hannity: You're saying let's capitulate to Obama? We don't have a revenue problem Ann.

Coulter: We lost the election Sean.

Hannity: We won the election in the House Ann!

The tax fight, combined with this fiscal cliff debate, has uncovered a GOP divide. On the one side: die hard conservatives; and on the other: those willing to deal. The first casualty appears to be the legendary anti-tax pledge.

"I'm not obligated on the pledge," Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told CBS News's Charlie Rose.

On the Brody File program, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., made his voice and choice clear.

"I can't go against everything I believe, everything the Republican Party stands for, and against good common sense, and raise tax rates," Rand told CBN News.

But the split over taxes is just one part of a larger question for the GOP: How to win over a changing electorate without losing the essence of the Republican Party.

"If you're running things up there on Capitol Hill, what's the way forward for the Republican Party, Senator?" Brody asked the senator.

"We have to believe in something," Rand answered. "If we're not the party of limited government, the Constitution, and lower taxes, then really I say disband."

"Really, if you want to be a party, you want to believe in something, I say let's do it," he said. "Let's don't be Democrats lite or President Obama lite."

On immigration, some GOP moderates and even some hard core conservatives want to give illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship. That could be seen as pandering, however, to a voting block that lined up behind Democrats in 2012.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., who may run again for president, said the GOP must be authentic.

"Hopefully, the conservative movement will understand, like any group, we're not going to get every vote. But we're not going to get any votes unless they understand that you care about what they think and the issues that they're concerned about," Santorum told CBN News.

Could one of those 2016 issues be gay marriage? More states are approving it, a majority of young voters support it, and the U.S. Supreme Court is even getting into the debate.

That puts the GOP in a political predicament: defend traditional marriage or cave in to polling.

Santorum said Republicans have a responsibility to the American people.

"The political discourse is not to just do whatever the polls say is what's popular today," he said. "We have a responsibility, and I think it was Edmond Burke who said it, that people in public life owe the people who they serve their best judgment and to go out and serve and make the case as to why this is the right course."

"If we abandon that, then I think we have given up on the American experiment," he said.

Meanwhile, the GOP experiment is a work in progress.

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David Brody is an Emmy Award-winning veteran news journalist who has interviewed many prominent national figures during his career of nearly 25 years. Currently, David covers the White House and interviews national newsmakers across the country.  Follow David on Twitter @TheBrodyFile and "like" him at Facebook.com/TheBrodyFile.