The talking heads will tell you that the Republican Party is in trouble in the upcoming midterm elections. The prevailing wisdom is that unrest with the Iraq War and the President, combined with a few flubs such as the Dubai ports deal, could spell doom for Republicans in 2006. There is an underlying problem, though, that isn’t getting enough attention. The Republican Party finds itself at this point in history without any real leadership.
Many in the media have it right when they label the current Republican’s woes as being the result of a trust issue. There is a problem of trust, and trust can only be gained through strong positions and principles spelled out by a strong leader. Where is that leadership in the Republican Party today? There are many prominent Republicans in the public’s eye right now, yet there is no uniform vision or purpose. The Republicans, as much as they would like to criticize Democrats for having no agenda, have lost sight of their agenda.
In 2004, when the President was running for re-election, the Republicans had a real message. Social Security reform, tax code reform, national security, staying the course in Iraq, and making the tax cuts permanent. This is a bold, aggressive agenda that Republicans nationwide can buy into. However, they seem to have given up. The Democrats have effectively drowned out the Republican majority with the assistance of their long time accomplice, the mainstream media. This has caused Republicans to retreat on Social Security, punt on tax reform, and even begin to lose their courage on Iraq.
This is the result of no leadership. Republicans need someone to rally to, and that someone is absent today. There are a handful of prominent Republicans, each with their own issue or personal agenda, but none with the boldness and leadership to rally Republicans around them and advance Republican principles. This results in the public looking at Republicans and hearing nothing but empty promises and rhetoric from a handful of politicians, most with Presidential aspirations.
In order for Republicans to maintain the momentum that they’ve enjoyed in recent elections, it is imperative for them to unify around a vision. Rep. Mike Pence (R.-Ind.) and his Republican Study Committee have laid out just such a vision, but their lack of prominence means that few Americans will have an opportunity to hear these principles articulated. A prominent national Republican such as Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum could effectively step in and lead, although Santorum finds himself unable to as he battles for re-election in the most closely watched Senate race in the country.
Republicans find themselves unable to rally around a President who has descended into the classic “lame duck” period of his presidency. He is under assault from both sides. Liberals have always hated him and, therefore, continue to attack. Republicans have become more and more critical as they feel that this is what they must do to get re-elected. This leaves a void in the party and causes a gap between Republicans and the public that is not easy to mend. Combine this with a perceived softness on immigration, one of the hottest election topics among the public today, and the recent lobby scandals and you have a recipe for disaster.
On the positive side, Democrats are caught in a worse version of the same predicament. They are without a vision or a leader, and show no signs of attaining either any time soon. Their constant criticisms of the President and Republicans are perceived as hollow, partisan politics. This is not likely to garner large majorities in an election. However, this leaves the Republicans in the situation of positioning themselves as the "lesser of two evils." This is not how you build or maintain a majority.
Republicans must unify around a vision, and find a champion that they can count on. I don’t advocate Republicans abandoning their President, but they must come to accept the fact that their President is not leading the party. This means that they need to find someone who will. That someone will most likely be best positioned to be the presidential nominee in 2008. Republicans are wandering around looking for someone to follow. The question is who will rise to the challenge and lead?