The party’s factions usually coexist peacefully, he said, but “the Akin matter makes it a lot harder.”
The visibility and prominence of national-security conservatives have waned in recent years, partly because of widespread disillusionment with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But business-oriented fiscal conservatives remain vitally important, as do social conservatives, who play big roles in swing states including Iowa, Florida and North Carolina.
The Akin episode ignited new tensions between the groups. Mike Huckabee, the Baptist minister and former Arkansas governor, ripped into establishment Republicans for trying to force Akin from the Senate race.
In a conference call monitored by CNN, Huckabee, who ran for president in 2008, likened the National Republican Senatorial Committee to “union goons” trying to kneecap rivals.
Romney needs as much peace between the factions as possible.
Corporate conservatives provide a disproportionate amount of funding for the GOP. Casino owner Sheldon Adelson, for instance, has pledged more than $10 million for groups opposing President Barack Obama. The wealthy industrialist brothers David and Charles Koch have donated and helped raise millions more.
Religious conservatives and anti-abortion activists, meanwhile, provide thousands of foot soldiers to knock on doors and make phone calls for candidates they support.
“The Akin case shows that the Republican establishment will pander to the social conservatives until they become a liability,” said Democratic strategist Doug Hattaway. “But the Wall Street/country club set still rely on the right-wing religious vote to prop up the party at the polls.”
Some veteran Republican operatives question why Romney maintains ties with Donald Trump, who continues to question whether Obama was born in the United States.
A hard, clean break with Trump, however, might alienate a small but fervent group of conservatives who, for now, are in Romney’s corner. In a presidential race that conceivably could turn on a few votes in one or two states, the loss of a tiny faction — led by Donald Trump, Todd Akin or someone else unloved by the Republican establishment — could prove crucial.