Republican politicians, concerned about President Bush's poll numbers and the public's apparent disapproval of the GOP's congressional leadership, are getting nervous about holding onto Congress in the fall elections.
Even their core supporters are unhappy, which is why Republican candidates are moving aggressively to shore up their base, especially among social conservatives.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., has scheduled votes on issues such as abortion, school prayer and a constitutional amendment to define marriage solely as a union between a man and a woman. These measures probably won't pass, but they will remind social conservatives that most of the GOP is still with them - and that it's the Democrats who are standing in their way.
But Republicans also need the support of another constituency - fiscal conservatives. They've done little to court that group - not with a $2.6 trillion federal budget, up more than 35 percent since 2001, and riddled with costly earmarks.
What can happen when Republicans give fiscal conservatives the back of their hand can be seen in Pennsylvania's May 16 GOP primary, in which 15 longtime ensconced state legislators, including the party's two top Senate leaders, were tossed out on their collective ear for supporting Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell's Big Government agenda of tax, borrow and spend. Their opponents opposed it.
That should send a loud and clear message. Just as social conservatism is a core principle of the party, so is fiscal conservatism. They ignore it at their peril.