Democrats may divide and conquer among their own, but Republicans seem inclined to pull the pins on their grenades and then hold onto them too long; witness the current war between Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and State Senator Abel Maldonado over passage of the budget ballot initiatives.

Maldonado’s been loaded for bear ever since Poizner started taking swipes at his GOP credentials. The swipes have become swings since Maldonado became a deciding vote in favor on the initiatives. The question of the day is, “When will Poizner go up with spots attacking the governor’s package and promoting himself as the can-do candidate to replace him?”

And where’s Meg Whitman? Can she afford to watch from the wings as Steve and Abel duke it out? Not likely.

Even with the poll numbers for passage under water for five of the six propositions, the air war for the Republican gubernatorial nomination is about to begin. It is a vacuum that demands to be filled.

Since an open primary is the only path to a political future for Maldonado, my guess is that he’s made a deal with Arnold. The governor, whose poll numbers may have recovered yet again next year at this time, has likely committed to campaign for the open primary alongside Maldonado. Look at what the brief open primary did for civil libertarian Tom Campbell in 2000 when it allowed him to become the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate. Who knows, maybe Maldonado wants to run for governor next year just to get his name I.D. up in preparation for a potential open primary run in 2014?

Perhaps the weakest link uniting Maldonado, Poizner, Whitman and Tom Campbell is that they’re all pro-choice. In a closed Republican primary, they would undoubtedly divvy up what’s left of the so-called moderate wing into tiny little pieces that will line the walkway to the nomination for a “real” (pro-life) Republican who may appear in time to save the party from saving itself. Someone like archconservative Ventura County Supervisor Peter Foy could send out one viral e-mail and infect the whole right wing with renewed zeal for an anti-choice candidate.

It may be deja vu all over again, but the GOP primary is starting to look like a mirror image of Gray Davis’s primary campaign for governor when he beat two zillionaires who punched each other’s lights out, leaving him as the only-one-left-standing nominee. Governor Foy, anyone?