De­feated party seeks to fill a ‘lead­er­ship vacuum’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY RALPH Z. HALLOW AND JOSEPH CURL

Af­ter tak­ing a beat­ing in 2006 and again in 2008, the Repub­li­can party is lead­er­less at a time when the new ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent Obama and a Congress now even more firmly con­trolled by Democrats is strug­gling to find a way out of the eco­nomic chaos at home and two ma­jor wars abroad.

The GOP’s failed 2008 pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, Ari­zona Sen. John McCain, did take a prom­i­nent role in op­pos­ing what Mr. Obama and his party call their “stim­u­lus” pack­age. But Mr. McCain, booed by many in the au­di­ence at last year’s Con­ser­va­tive Po­lit­i­cal Action Con­fer­ence, is no more pop­u­lar with his party to­day than he was in years past, Repub­li­cans and con­ser­va­tives say.

“Af­ter a party suf­fers an elec­tion loss, there is al­ways a lead­er­ship vacuum,” said David A. Keene, chair­man of the Amer­i­can Con­ser­va­tive Union.

“And while Repub­li­cans ap­pre­ci­ate Sen. McCain’s op­pos­ing the ex­cesses in the Obama spending pack­age, Repub­li­cans are looking for a new gen­er­a­tion of leaders and are def­i­nitely not looking back­ward to peo­ple like John McCain.”

“He is coura­geous and able se­na­tor who none­the­less has never been a con­sis­tent Repub­li­can and has not been pop­u­lar with con­ser­va­tive mem­bers of his party on Capi­tol Hill or out­side Wash­ing­ton,” Mr. Keene said of the au­thor of McCainFein­gold cam­paign spending reg­u­la­tions that con­ser­va­tives and most Repub­li­cans de­spise.

Al­though just three months ago, 70 mil­lion Amer­i­cans — in­clud­ing mil­lions of Repub­li­cans — voted for Mr. Obama, Mr. McCain has been one of the GOP´s se­na­tors who ham­mered the new pres­i­dent on ev­ery­thing from ex­ces­sive fed­eral spending to the war in Afghanistan.

“You have McCain be­ing McCain,” said for­mer House Speaker Newt Gin­grich. The prom­i­nent con­ser­va­tive leader said that hav­ing the self-de­scribed mav­er­ick step for­ward early in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion was “ab­so­lutely” cru­cial dur­ing the de­bate of the $787 bil­lion Obama stim­u­lus bill.

Spy­ing an op­por­tu­nity to get right with his party’s base, Mr. McCain ap­pears ready to bat­tle his for­mer foe, es­chew­ing con- cil­i­a­tion and op­pos­ing ex­ces­sive feral spending — some­thing he has al­ways op­posed even when he was widely de­scribed as the Democrats’ fa­vorite Repub­li­can.

While some in the Se­nate sought com­pro­mise over the stim­u­lus pack­age, Mr. McCain re­fused to join a small group of mod­er­ates from both par­ties. In­stead, he took to the Se­nate floor and be­rated the Demo­cratic plan, push­ing a Repub­li­can pro­posal that called for more tax cuts and less gov­ern­ment spending than Pres­i­dent Obama de­manded.

One of the young Repub­li­cans the party hopes to turn to for lead­er­ship is Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jin­dal, 37, who gave the GOP re­sponse to Mr. Obama’s ad­dress to a joint ses­sion of Congress on Feb. 24. But the per­for­mance by the son of im­mi­grant par­ents from In­dia gen­er­ally dis­ap­pointed Repub­li­cans and con­ser­va­tives, both for its con­tent and style, said Craig Shirley, a prom­i­nent Repub­li­can con­sul­tant and au­thor of two books on Ron­ald Rea­gan.

“Still, he’s on the short list of pos­si­ble GOP leaders, mainly be­cause the list is so short,” Mr. Shirley added.

Mr. Jin­dal did not ad­dress the Con­ser­va­tive Po­lit­i­cal Action Con­fer­ence in Wash­ing­ton last week. Nor did most of the GOP gov­er­nors on that short list — such as Rick Perry of Texas, Ha­ley Bar­bour of Mis­sis­sippi, Sarah Palin of Alaska, Tim Paw­lenty of Min­nesota and for­mer Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

South Carolina Gov. Mark San­ford, who sup­ported Mr. McCain for the GOP nom­i­na­tion in 2000 and 2008, is a short­listed pos­si­ble leader who was sched­uled to ad­dress CPAC in per­son.

“Emerg­ing Repub­li­can leaders for 2010 and 2012 have some­thing in com­mon,” said GOP cam­paign strate­gist Pa­trick Davis. “They are not from Wash­ing­ton. Look to gov­er­nors like Jin­dal, Perry, Bar­bour, Palin, Paw­lenty. They are con­nected to re­al­ity and the strug­gles of or­di­nary cit­i­zens. Wash­ing­ton still doesn’t get it.”

As for Mr. Jin­dal’s re­sponse to Mr. Obama, Mr. Davis said, “It was not Jin­dal’s finest mo­ment. He is smart and this wasn’t the Jin­dal we know. He looked to be too scripted and al­most ro­botic. He is ca­pa­ble of so much more.”

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