The old gray elephant is fighting for survival. Either the tea party led by Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck take over the party or the Democrats beat tea party candidates who ousted GOP candidates in primaries and leave the Republicans on the outside looking in for at least another couple of years.

The old gray elephant is fighting for survival.

The battle lines are drawn, and the old version of the GOP may be a casualty no matter who wins in November.

Either the tea party led by Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck take over the party or the Democrats beat tea party candidates who ousted GOP candidates in primaries and leave the Republicans on the outside looking in for at least another couple of years.

Either way, conservatives in America will have to try to find common ground.

They haven't found it yet.

Palin energized the tea party campaign on behalf of Christine O'Donnell in Delaware's Republican Senate Primary recently. She joined a chorus of folks who were fed up with RINO (Republican In Name Only - that's what "true conservatives" call conservatives with a less than 95 percent Republican voting record) Mike Castle. Castle left his seat in the House of Representatives to run for Joe Biden's Senate seat.

Republican's have counted this seat as a win in 2010 since Biden left to become vice president.

Rep. Castle was a moderate Republican who enjoyed a solid following as Delaware's only member of the House.

Then came the new kids on the block, and Castle became one of several mainstream Republicans who have been flooded by a wave of tea.

Some old-fashioned conservatives have embraced the tea partiers as a return to real conservative values. Others haven't been as quick to embrace the newcomers since current polling shows that they enjoy far more success in knocking off Republicans in primaries than they will in general elections where Democrats and independent voters also have a say.

Karl Rove - who George W. Bush dubbed "the architect" after his victory over John Kerry in 2004 - said that O'Donnell's win hurt the Republicans.

"I'm for the Republican," Rove said in a tepid endorsement of O'Donnell on Sean Hannity's Fox News show. "But we were looking at eight to nine seats in the Senate. We are now looking at seven to eight in my opinion."

Why does Rove question O'Donnell's electability?

"There were a lot of nutty things she has been saying that don't add up," Rove said. "Why did she mislead voters about her college education? How come it took nearly two decades to pay her college bills so she could get her college degree? How did she make a living?"

O'Donnell - seemingly channeling a Sarah Palin Mama Grizzly "we don't need him anyway" spirit - called Rove "a so-called political guru" and said, "They have a losing track record. If they're too lazy to put in the effort that we need to win, then so be it."

Most Delaware voters in a recent poll seem to validate Rove's concern.

According to Public Policy Polling, just 31 percent of Delaware voters believe O'Donnell is "fit" to hold office. She trails Democrat opponent Chris Coons by 26 points in recent polling. A website called realchristine.com lists numerous charges that echo the troubles Rove outlined to Hannity.
Pat Buchanan told the MSNBC Morning Joe hosts Wednesday that O'Donnell was "very attractive" and "fresh."

Rove may agree with Buchanan on O'Donnell being the best-looking candidate in the race, but he thinks voters may want a little more in November.

"It does conservatives little good to support candidates who, at the end of the day, while they may be conservative in their public statements, do not evince the characteristics of rectitude and truthfulness and sincerity and character that the voters are looking for," Rove said.

But Newt Gingrich isn't giving up on O'Donnell or any other wacky members of the tea party gang.

He not only believes in O'Donnell in Delaware, but he is doubling down on Sharron Angle in Nevada. Angle's views are so radical she makes O'Donnell seem almost normal.

Gingrich went to Twitter on Wednesday to let his followers know that he is still on board.

"Angle will beat harry reid and odonnel will win in delaware. 2010 is the year of the grassroots over the establishment," he tweeted with little regard for spelling or capitalization. He also added, "There will be an all out effort to discredit christine odonnell in delaware just as there was to discredit Sharon angle in Nevada."

Gingrich isn't running for any office right now, but he is constantly running his mouth.

He is "all in," despite what polls show. Even though Sen. Harry Reid has received a lot of blame for national economic policies that have not saved the economy in his home state, he is still leading by several points in most polls.

When he turns up the heat throughout October, that lead could grow.

O'Donnell will also struggle with negative campaign ads. That's why Gingrich tried to get out in front of the campaign to condition his followers and try to take some of the sting out of the slaps.

The long-term implications for the Republican Party are not good regardless of what comes out of November's ballot box.

If tea party candidates win, it will emasculate the old GOP. These candidates are running as much against their policies as the Democrats. If the tea party can't turn primary success into general success, the Democrats retain their majority in the legislative branch and a split conservative movement will have only months to repair the damage and try to find someone to run against Obama in 2012.

The Republicans needed a grassroots movement to energize the party. Instead, a fringe group charged up the grassroots, and the Republicans don't own those grassroots voters.

I can see a very likely scenario where a third-party candidate runs with similar success to Ross Perot - albeit espousing a very different platform.

If memory serves me correctly, Perot almost single-handedly handed the White House to Bill Clinton in 1992.

A split vote for a split party won't beat Obama.

Kent Bush is publisher of the Augusta (Kan.) Gazette.