Defeated party seeks to fill a ‘leadership vacuum’
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.”