The Republican leadership crisis

I blogged recently about President Barack Obama’s vision drift and the lack of a clear agenda in the White House as we muddle toward the 2012 political campaign.

But an even more pressing leadership crisis is emerging within the Republican movement.

This crisis comes in two forms.  First, the slate of potential presidential candidates now dominating the landscape is complicated by a half-dozen figures who border on the buffoonish.

Even many Republicans are describing their line-up as unqualified and unelectable.

As the central Republican Party has weakened — ceding power to a pantheon of more independent tea-party-style organizations — the GOP has lost much of its ability to weed out these characters.

Donald Trump symbolizes the malaise.  Every minute the Manhattan Hairpiece gobbles up on Fox News or The View is a minute that real political leaders don’t get to use to convey and hone their messages.

And Trump’s not alone.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin have both managed to confuse their infomercial-and-punditry financial empires with the future of the Republican Party.

And then there is Congresswoman Michelle Bachman, who is the Right’s version of Al Sharpton.  She has also been garnering serious support, both in organizational backing and in millions of dollars of campaign cash.

With all of these sideshow acts sucking the oxygen out of the room, how is a serious candidate expected to emerge and compete with Barack Obama, who is likely to be the first candidate to raise $1 billion for his re-election?

An even bigger problem for Republicans may be that their more credible candidates — men like Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty — are running hard from their own ideas.

Romney was an early architect of the kind of centrist healthcare reform adopted by President Barack Obama.

He installed a similar system — including the now much-dreaded personal mandate — while governor of Massachusetts.  (The fact that he is a Mormon will also hinder his bid for the nomination.)

Pawlenty, meanwhile, was an early supporter of the cap-and-trade approach to curbing greenhouse gases, a concept that many conservatives embraced.

That kind of flip-floppery doesn’t sit well with voters, especially core conservatives within the GOP.

The reason for this leadership muddle is fairly simple.

Despite big gains in 2010 — to a certain degree, because of those gains — the conservative movement has continued to fracture among increasingly disparate groups.

Libertarians, evangelical Christians, tax-cutters, budget balancers, country club centrists, neoconservative hawks, isolationists, Muslim haters, illegal immigration activists and birthers.

It’s a dizzying array of factions.  And unlike the left, these groups actually influence and shape the GOP’s message and political strategy to an enormous degree.

Which means that the most influential Republicans currently aren’t unifiers, or big-picture conservatives.

They are niche-fillers, base-cheerleaders and even a few outright demagogues.

These are folks, in other words, who know how to gratify and satisfy a narrow constituency, but have no real ideas (at least ones they’re willing to talk about) for leading a big, complex, modern and moderate nation.

None of this means that Republicans are out of the game.  Americans know that the country  needs some big changes and the GOP has a chance to craft a new, broad, hopeful and realistic message.

And in 2012, a lot of conservative-leaning voters will be casting their ballots against Barack Obama, no matter who occupies the Republican ticket.

For the present, I’m guessing that the battle for the GOP nomination will continue to be a noisy, entertaining and largely irrelevant circus.

But the politician who manages to tame and harness all those wild elephants could be our next president.

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36 Comments on “The Republican leadership crisis”

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  1. Brian says:

    He increased the debt and negotiated with the Soviets and had divorced to boot along with having been a one-time union leader. I agree with the assessment that even Ronald Reagan would be too “liberal” for the Tea Partiers.

  2. Bret4207 says:

    Isn’t this a good example of what we’ve come to though? Brian M rightly points out that many of the GOP hopefuls are catering to one tiny section of the party. I don’t know of any Brian lists that are taking the high road and pulling the most important parts of the fight to the forefront. It’s nothing but a “Where’s mine’s?” in political form. Gimee!

    All the right needs is another person that can draw the best of conservative ideas together and that has the personal fortitude and character to actually lead instead of just stand at the helm. Of course the Dems need that too.

    Pretty sad that we’re down to this. Those that desire to be President are usually the last people you’d want in the position.

  3. Bill G says:

    The situation is a bit analogous to 2004 when Bush was eminently beatable. What did the Democrats do? Nominated a liberal from Massachusetts. That worked out real well. The Republicans seem to be headed down a similar path. They have an extremely vulnerable incumbent and a seven dwarf field of potential candidates.

    On paper, Romney appears to be a strong candidate who could attract the independent voter, but even if he got the nomination he’s unlikely to have the support of the most energized wing of his own party.

    But what I really want to see is a debate between the self-anointed Great Hairpiece and ‘Hoot – Smalley’ Bachmann. I’d pay real money for that!

  4. mervel says:

    Romney is boring. The Republican Dukakis.

    The Republicans are going to have to take a breath and really look at who is electable and is new and exciting.

    There is fragmentation no doubt about that. Michelle Bachman looks like another female Fox reporter, only she is a brunette, that is her calling card, then you have Newt and Trump and all of these media guys who think this is a reality TV show.

    If Marco Rubio was more experienced he would work well. Don’t count Jeb Bush out.

  5. oa says:

    There’s no crisis, Brian. This IS their leadership: Bachmann, Trump and Overreach.
    Don’t worry, though. The Politico-loving centrists in the DC Village will breathe a sigh of relief when the big money conveniently scandalizes these noisy pretenders with “scandals”–O’Keefe’s coming for ya, Sarah!–and rallies around the only guy who can beat Obama in 2012, Jon Huntsman.

  6. Paul says:

    “Romney is boring.” No more boring that the current president.

    If 4 wars and 4 dollar a gallon gas doesn’t hurt the incumbent it probably makes sense to save the political ammo for 2016.

    Focus on the senate.

  7. Paul says:

    Things are currently going so terribly for the democrats it is really amazing that the GOP can’t get their act together.

    You have to enjoy politics! My favorite right now is how the democrats are trying to spin their inability to put forward a budget last year as some republican problem. Then it looks like the GOP wants to put forward a 2012 budget that tackles the issues raised by the bipartisan budget commission and the democratic leader says it is a non-starter?? How the democrats can support that is hard to understand.

  8. JDM says:

    I agree with your overall analysis, that the GOP list of contenders is wanting.

    However, no one can be ruled for lack of experience after seeing what 2 years of incompetence looks like.

  9. cement says:

    the presidential scenario is shaping up like last night’s basketball game….very sloppy, a sometimes frenetic pace, lots of scoring chances but few points. and in the end, someone wins.

  10. Paul says:

    cement, there was some pretty good defense last night. In the end I think the better team won. Same can happen in politics sometime.

  11. Mervel says:

    But maybe it is better to have a wild scene of competing voices and views within the Republican Party?

  12. Pete Klein says:

    Could we please put this aside until the summer of the election?

  13. scratchy says:

    Personally, I fully expect Bachmann to win the nomination and then lose to Obama. The tea party will find most of the other candidates unacceptable. One need only look at Paladino’s landslide win GOP primary win in NY, a state with a disproportionately moderate Republican primary.

    Bill G,
    “What did the Democrats do? Nominated a liberal from Massachusetts. That worked out real well.”

    Actually, the real reason Kerry lost was he wasn’t liberal enough on Iraq. His waffling on this issue made him appear weak and indecisive.

    Peter Klein,
    “Could we please put this aside until the summer of the election?”

    Excellent point. I hate the neverending presidential campaign.

  14. Bill Hunt says:


  15. JDM says:

    The GOP upped the ante today. It’s going to be hard for a moderate Republican to gain traction. The dividing lines are getting sharper.

    It’s going to be European Socialism vs. Tea Party.

  16. cement says:

    yes paul. the bigger, more athletic and better team won. and both were tenacious defensively. but still the shooting on both ends was atrocious. uconn won with 53 points, which is usually a losing team’s total.

  17. Paul says:

    cement, I hear you. Maybe NCPR needs a sports blog!

  18. cement says:

    nah….that’s not high-brow enough :)

  19. oa says:

    Matt Howard=too short.

  20. Mervel says:

    Marco Rubio is the man.

  21. Bret4207 says:

    I find it amazing that I got 6 likes to one of MY comments!!! Must be people assumed I was dissing the right.

    Mervel- Rubio, Christy, Herman Cain, Huntsman…any number of people could do it. It’s getting past the Republican old boy network that is the problem. The RNC simply doesn’t care about what the base wants anymore then the DNC does. It’s just about them (RNC) staying in power, same with the DNC, the unions, etc. None of our major politcal organization seem to actually care about the country one way or another. If they did they’d be working together to better the economy, reduce spending, lower the deficit and debt and to ensure a real future for the nation. But, instead it’s a power game and they try to buy the votes by responding to the special interest “Gimees”.

    I find it sickening.

  22. john says:

    The first thing the GOP needs to do is get away from the idea that they are living in a late 18th century nation. We have 309,000,000 people, not the 4 million counted in 1790. Average life expectancy is in the mid to late 70’s, (with much medical support). We are not an agrarian society of extended families living within 20 miles of our birthplace for our entire lifetimes. We are part of a globally-driven economy, not a local economy. We have medical practices that make it possible for people with severe and chronic medical conditions to survive childhood, we have vaccinations that mean that most children survive to adulthood, instead of the reverse. This idiotic thinking that we can run this country as if it were 1791 is the biggest impediment to Republican candidates.
    Add to that,that, and the sillier idea that we can continue to cut revenue in the form of taxes and somehow we will cut our way to prosperity. They only way that strategy will work is if we leave the needs of the vast majority of citizens bereft of any of the resources and support that societies ordinarily supply to the majority of their populations. French Revolution, anyone?

  23. Pete Klein says:

    I suppose if you need leaders to live your life, this might be a crises.

  24. tourpro says:

    I think part of the GOP issues are directly related to the disarray of the current administration – anyone and everyone thinks they might have a chance to win. (Trump !! hahahaha)

    When competition is fierce, it discourages the outliers and forces more focused efforts. So, I guess I agree with Brian, but see it in a different angle.

  25. mervel says:

    Bret I think we just need some quality candidates. Articulate, smart and charismatic. The current so called front runners really do not fit that bill.

    Christ Christi does as does Rubio; those are the kind of people that Obama is worried about. I mean having Palin, Bachman, Trump, Gingrich and Romney be the front runners is a Democratic dream. Maybe the new model is that you trot out the clowns first and the serious candidates come in later.

  26. tootightmike says:

    “Articulate, smart, charismatic” …All the qualities of a con-man. If we would elect a professional liar then why not Condolezza Rice.

  27. Bret4207 says:

    John, could expand on just what you mean in your 8:51 post please? It can be taken a number of ways and I’d like a little clarification before I either agree or the blood shoots out of my eyes.

    Mike- “Articulate, smart, charismatic” …All the qualities of a career politician. And yes, I’d certainly consider Condi.

  28. Fred Goss says:

    One of the facts of the past half-century of presidential primary politicsi both parties is that someone who gets in early and fights from the start wins the prize. “Pros” used to wait for a more desirable candidate to come in later and win..can’t recall when that actually happened. Could the gop in 2012 be the exception??

  29. Paul says:


    You got a lot of approval for your comment above. I don’t quite see what you are trying to get at? Are you saying that the GOP would like to trim government back to 1790’s levels, or are you saying they want to trim it back to 75 times the level we had in 1790 (8 million times 75 equals 300 million)? Or are you saying something else? Both democrats and republicans support decreasing the size of the federal government the debate is how much? Some in both parties live on the unrealistic fringe. But you also never get all you want in our political system so you start out high (or low) and work from there. Our debt is not sustainable, that is not idiocy, it is reality. Increased taxation will help, but paring back some programs will be necessary. Like you say folks live a long time now, most of those changes have come fairly recently thanks to modern medicine, some programs need to be adjusted to those realities.

  30. Mervel says:

    ‘ “Articulate, smart, charismatic” …All the qualities of a con-man. If we would elect a professional liar then why not Condolezza Rice.’

    From an electability standpoint they are better qualities than inarticulate, stupid and dull. All of the clownish frontrunners the Republicans have now fit one of those categories.

    However there are Republicans out there today who could seriously challenge Obama. The Republicans lost a lot of political capital because of Bush, as long as they keep putting up people who seem dumb and inarticulate and brag about being dumb and inarticulate and ill informed as if it was some sort of virtue; they will have a major problem. Its not cute anymore, many of us can’t spell and have bad grammar, starting with myself but I am unqualified for almost all public offices, this common man idea is bunk. They have to start looking competent; this is not an easy job.

    Palin, Bachman…. they are not qualified, they are probably good people who would do ok on some city council or school board in some small conservative town somewhere but as long as Republicans throw these types up no one will take them seriously and for good reason. Chris Christi on the other hand knows what he is doing, is smart and has proved himself. Rubio is charismatic, smart and yes new to Congress, but so was our current President.

  31. Peter Hahn says:

    “as long as they keep putting up people who seem dumb and inarticulate and brag about being dumb and inarticulate and ill informed as if it was some sort of virtue; they will have a major problem.” I wish that were true.

  32. Bill G says:

    Kerry lost the election for a variety of reasons but the fact that he was a viewed as a MA liberal was certainly one of the major ones. It’s not a coincidence that virtually all the presidents since Kennedy were not from the Northeast (even GHW Bush positioned himself as a Texan).

    And, Condoleeza Rice as some sort of statesperson, c’mon. The woman was an absolute hack. She was continually rolled by Rumsfeld (the guy who is in a dead heat with McNamara for being the worst DecDef in US history), undermined Powell, told Bush what he wanted to hear, and has no significant accomplishments to her credit. She demonstrated her incompetence during the war between Georgia and Russia, a fact worthy on note since she was a “Russian Expert”.

  33. JDM says:

    “I’m just going to be honest with you. There’s not much we can do next week or two weeks from now,” the president told workers at a wind turbine plant.

    Today, our President is recycling Jimmy Carter lines.

    “Get used to it. I can’t fix it. No one can.”

    Incompetence on display.

  34. scratchy says:

    mervel said,

    “Marco Rubio is the man.”

    What happened the last time we elected a less-than one term senator?

  35. RWilmington says:

    I think Donald Trump would be a serious and formidable candidate. i just heard him interviewed by Meredith Vierra. This is a worthwhile discussion because the time is right for candidates to be accumulating campaign money, of course that wouldn’t be a problem for Donald.

  36. mervel says:


    What happened last time? What happened last time was he got elected! That is what the Republicans need to focus on.

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