GOP wonders: Is populism worth the trouble?

This disagreement reflects longstanding divisions within a movement whose early leaders, like William F. Buckley Jr., were often unapologetic elitists who disdained the passions of the masses and were likely to link populism to the left and its attacks on Wall Street…

The trick, some Republicans said, is to guide populists’ energies toward an optimistic agenda built on those themes. “If we don’t take this anger and frustration, as legitimate as I believe it is, and channel it into a good, a positive, then we won’t be successful,” said Rick Santorum, a former Republican senator from Pennsylvania.

Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, who was chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1993 to 1997 and is a potential 2012 president candidate, cited the 1994 House elections as a model for what the party can accomplish now. In that election, he said, Republicans attracted voters who in 1992 had backed H. Ross Perot’s third-party candidacy.

“We figured out very quickly that the vast majority of them agreed with Republicans on most issues, and we courted them,” Mr. Barbour said. “We invited them to be involved and made it plain that we were interested in their views and that we shared most views. And I think the same thing would be said about the tea party leaders and activists.”