Let me finish tonight with this Republican Party - this party that has to make a big decision and start making it right now - this week.
I grew up around mainstream Republicans. They voted for Eisenhower and people like him, people who believed in government restraint, less government at home, and, in Ike's case, less interference in other countries abroad.
There was a centrist political movement. It stood for balanced budgets - not supply side craziness; pay as you go - economics. The government paid for what it spent. If it spent more money, it raised taxes to pay for it. Nelson Rockefeller Republicanism. Fascinating, isn't it? Common sense, down the middle, reasonable economics.
Today, we're watching a battle between what once was the Republican party - the conservatively-inclined middle - and the New Right - the religious people who vote for Republicans because they prefer them to Democrats. They get involved in politics because their religion leads them to it - anger over not having prayers led in public schools, anger over the government not prosecuting people for abortion, anger over the government recognizing same-sex marriage, anger over - let's face it - the way things are.
So tonight it all begins all in Iowa - a debate - followed by a straw vote this Saturday. And it's likely to start a drift.
There are really only two candidates running today for the GOP presidential nomination who qualify as the kind of Republicans most of us grew up with: one is Mitt Romney, the other is Jon Huntsman.
The others – Rep. Michele Bachman and Texas Gov. Rick Perry - who were supposed to get in the race being the leaders, are in the religious faction, those who treat elections as deliverance, some deep change in the American soul that can be triggered by hard stumping between now and next November. These revivalists are out to take charge of the Republican party for good.
So it's a dangerous game we're watching. This country is run by voters who choose each four years between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. They decide based on conditions in the country and the quality of the two candidates. They like to have this choice, they like being the "deciders." If one of our two parties, the Republicans, gets taken over by the wild ones - the religious folk - it will make it hard for the independent voter to choose them, not impossible, but hard.
That's not good for the Republic. I don't think I'm the only one who likes having a close election contest, with both candidates being credible leaders of the country. That won't happen if the Republicans go nuts and do what they did in '64 - and pick someone they don't think really could or even should be president but just want to vote their angry gut.
It should be interesting to see what happens this week in Iowa. It's certainly going to be important - especially if it’s the start of something big- the final take-over of the party Lincoln by all that he opposed.