The Republican Party needs a leader, and so far, no one has stepped up to the job. The mainstream media have had great fun declaring talk show host Rush Limbaugh the de facto head of the GOP, which caused newly elected Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele to assert, testily, that he’s in charge, not Rush. Frankly, neither man is right for the job. And if the party can’t find someone who is — and fast — Republicans will have a tough time fighting the Democrat juggernaut.
Rush certainly speaks for a segment of Republicans, the populist wing of the party that has become increasingly bitter in recent years about everything from immigration to bank bailouts. But his job is to keep listeners entertained — though he’s more than an entertainer, as Steele dismissively described him and later apologized for.
Rush can say outrageous things without real consequences, as he has on numerous occasions. In fact, the more controversy he stirs, the higher his ratings and the fatter his paycheck. He’s a very smart guy, as much as the liberal media think he’s an albatross around the Republican Party’s neck. Over the years, he’s educated a wide swath of Middle America on some important issues, like the fallacy that the rich don’t pay their fair share of taxes. But he doesn’t represent the Republican Party any more than filmmaker Michael Moore or MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann represent the Democrats.
Nor is Michael Steele the right guy to lead the party at this moment in history. Don’t get me wrong, I like Steele. I thought he was a great candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2006, a decent lieutenant governor of Maryland and was the best of the lot running to be RNC chair this year. But the party needs more than an affable and articulate guy who’s good on air with talking points. The GOP needs real leadership from someone who can fashion a vision for the party, lead the fight in Congress and against the White House, and rally ordinary citizens to the cause. For the sake of the party, Steele should step aside and let a proven leader take on the role of RNC chairman.
A few members of Congress come to mind. Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona is one of the most principled conservatives around. He’s as bright as they come and is very effective in front of the cameras. But although he’s risen in the ranks of Senate leadership over the years, he’s never seemed to relish taking on the role of national leader. I’ve always thought he’d be a great presidential candidate, but he’s never taken a bite of that apple.
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota is another potential leader. He’s one of the most telegenic and well-spoken members of Congress and a great debater. He’d make a first-rate GOP chairman, giving the party a more youthful face — he’s exactly the same age as President Obama.
Virginia Republican Rep. Eric Cantor might also fit the bill. He’s certainly been effective on the Sunday talk shows, not to mention rallying the Republican troops in the House not to break ranks in opposing the Democrats’ spending spree. But it’s harder for a House member to emerge as a national leader, though Newt Gingrich certainly managed it even before he became Speaker of the House.
Not since Lyndon Johnson occupied the White House and Democrats held huge majorities in the House and Senate have we seen such a lopsided advantage for the Democratic Party and an absence of effective leadership among Republicans. What we’re seeing now is one-party rule unchecked by an effective opposition, something Republicans never had, even when they controlled both branches of elected government.
Given the uncharted waters the country now finds itself in — with an economic crisis that shows no sign of abatement and a continued threat to national security posed by terrorists and rogue nations — the risks are enormous. The Democrats seem hell-bent on spending the nation into penury and paying for what they don’t borrow by weakening our national defense. The country — not just the GOP — needs someone to articulate an alternative vision, and right now, we just don’t have it.