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March 10, 2009

Who's the Leader of the Republicans? Who Cares?

It's not a good time to be a Republican right now – that much is clear. Coming off an eight-year presidency that virtually all but the most dishonest partisan hacks admit was a failure, and faced with the ascension of a president pursuing unabashedly liberal policies to thundering popularity, the GOP finds itself facing both an identity crisis and significant structural problems going forward.

But here's a problem they don't have – the lack of a leader.

As the Rush Limbaugh/RNC feud reaches its third week, and as all involved on the Republican side have stepped obliviously and repeatedly in the trap set by the Democrats, many in the media – including Jay Cost in a Real Clear Politics column, as well as various cable news pundits – have asked the question of who, exactly, is the current leader of the GOP.


Is it Limbaugh? RNC Chairman Michael Steele? Sarah Palin? Bobby Jindal? The ghost of Ronald Reagan?

I'd say none of the above (though Cost, to his credit, reached a similar conclusion).

The debate between Rush Limbaugh and certain powerful GOPers wasn't "ginned up" by the Democrats. It's actually happening, and all they did was notice and extract a minimal amount of political capital from it. But really, it's a silly question – the idea that there has to be one and only leader of every political party at any given time is generally fiction and has been throughout history. The Republicans have a lot of problems right now, but their lack of a singular leader is pretty far down the list.

The "who's the leader?" question is a silly diversion, something dreamed up in order to fill airtime during a lull in the political news. But it's not just a Democrat/Republican thing – the GOP is no more leaderless now than are most political parties in their first few months out of power.

Look, for instance, at the Democrats in President Bush's first term. The Republicans still controlled both Houses of Congress (except for the brief window in 2002) and no Democratic leader emerged. There was an ineffectual DNC chairman (Terry McAuliffe), congressional leaders unlikely to inspire or lead (Dick Gephardt, Tom Daschle) and extremists wreaking havoc and throwing bombs from the sidelines (led by Michael Moore who – to be fair – was never shown the type of deference from top Dems that Limbaugh gets now).

Matthew Continetti, of the conservative Weekly Standard, made a similar point last week about Bush's second term, asking, "Who was the Democratic party's ‘leader’ during the years 2005 to 2007? Was it Howard Dean? Al Franken? Keith Olbermann? Triumph the Insult Comic Dog?"

(To be fair, Triumph had some excellent ideas. But he's probably too busy these days to help the Republicans, getting ready to sidekick on The Tonight Show and all.)

The Republicans, as much trouble as they're in, will probably return to power eventually. And it's likely, probably the next presidential election time, that they'll find another standard bearer. But if the Republicans fail to knock out Obama in 2012, it won't be because it couldn't fill its leadership vacuum three years and six months earlier.


© 2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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