RRepublican were divided over how to respond to an economic crisis of their own making. John McCain’s economic guru, Phil Gramm, successfully deregulated the financial-services industry; President Bush and Tom DeLay’s Congress implemented the plan, and then, with the 2008 election approaching, the economy they created was tanking.

After years of reading from the same tattered page of discarded free-market theorizing, the Grand Old Party seemed suddenly to be splitting up, with McCain saying he would fire Bush appointees and — depending on the hour — either backing or opposing a $700-billion (give or take a trillion) bailout of banks proposed by the Republican president’s man at the Treasury Department.

Republican senators and members of the House are all over the board, so much so that Democratic candidates were beginning to exploit the divisions.

In Oklahoma, for instance, Democrat Andrew Rice, a state senator who is mounting an aggressive challenge to veteran Republican Senator Jim Inhofe, embraced criticisms of the bailout plan by Inhofe’s Republican colleague from Oklahoma, maverick conservative Senator Tom Coburn.

“I couldn’t agree more with Sen. Coburn,” declared Rice. “And we should all be asking ourselves, what has Jim Inhofe, who’s been in Washington 22 years, done to avert this crisis?”

The Hill newspaper, a Capitol Hill publication that tracked the fallout from the scandal, unearthed several similar circumstances, including a fascinating Republican-versus-Republican divide that a Democrat took advantage of in Idaho.

Republican Congressman Mike Simpson had publicly criticized the other Republican congressman from Idaho, Bill Sali, for making irresponsible statements regarding the bailout proposal. Speaking of Sali, one of the most extreme members of the Republican congressional caucus, Simpson told an Idaho paper, “Sometimes Bill puts himself in a philosophical position that’s untenable that he can’t get off of.”

An amused Walt Minnick, the Democrat who is challenging Sali in a district where Democrats have begun to show signs of viability, announced that he agreed with Simpson — exploiting an opening to attract sensible Republicans to his campaign.

All this Republican-on-Republican warfare could get a little confusing for a party loyalist.

Where to turn for clarity?

How about the 2008 Republican platform?

In the extensive section on the economy — which opens with a pledge to “empower” the “Sabbath collection plate” — there is a section on how best to respond to economic turbulence.

“We do not support government bailouts of private institutions,” the platform affirms, unequivocally. “Government interference in the markets exacerbates problems in the marketplace and causes the free market to take longer to correct itself. We believe in the free market as the best tool to sustained prosperity and opportunity for all.”

So, there you have it: the official, if little noted, Republican line on the bailout.