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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
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
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.
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