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A vacuum at the helm

The GOP's fruitless search for a leader

As a public service to those of you who favor a healthy two-party system, let's check in on the Republicans and determine whether they have yet found anyone in the ranks who might be deemed leader-worthy - a person who can not only command the broad respect of party regulars, and who can quell the intraparty food fights, but who can also connect with the mainstream electorate that has slapped the party silly in two straight elections.

Could it be...Rush Limbaugh? Fat chance. In the national polls, he sits at roughly 25 percent approval, which is about what Richard Nixon got at the end of Watergate, and what George W. Bush got at the end of his infamous tenure. That's also basically where Newt Gingrich sits today, and I question whether Newt is now poised to boost his numbers, after having just declared on Fox News that President Obama is potentially creating "the equivalent of a dictatorship."

How about...Michael Steele? Dream on. The new party chairman is still getting dissed by the right for his recent dissing of Limbaugh. (Conservative commentator Thomas Sowell tells us that Steele's attack on Rush was "a sop to the liberal intellectuals," as well as patently unfair, because Rush actually provides "factual information and in-depth analysis.") Steele is currently trying to mend fences with the base by playing the God card, declaring to CNN this week that he might run for president some day if that's "where God wants me to be. God has a way of revealing stuff to you...And if that's part of the plan, it'll be the plan." It's questionable whether independent swing voters can be charmed by yet another Republican who claims to be touched by the divinity.

Or maybe the leader is...Sarah Palin? Nah, too divisive. In fact, she's too divisive within her own party. Last week, in an address to the Alaska GOP, she dissed the McCain campaign, complaining that, back in the fall of 2008, she couldn't find any McCain staffers who were touched by the divinity: "So I'm looking around for somebody to pray with, I just need maybe a little help, maybe a little extra, and the McCain campaign, love 'em, you know, they're a lot of people around me, but nobody I could find that I wanted to hold hands with and pray." (A former McCain staffer retaliated by telling CNN that her remarks will prompt people to question "her judgment as a leader.") Meanwhile, let's not forget that Palin, like Steele, is pondering a future presidential bid if God deems it so; as she put it last November, "I'm like, 'OK God, if there's an open door for me somewhere,' this is what I always pray, I'm like, 'don't let me miss the open door.'" Perhaps it'd be a good idea, for the sake of party unity, if Palin and Steele sat down with the celestial power broker and got Him to render an early endorsement.

Or maybe the next leader is...Bobby Jindal, the great minority hope from Louisiana? Hard to see that happening, especially after his latest embarrassment. You might recall that he delivered the party's official response to President Obama back on Feb. 24; that night, he ridiculed the "wasteful spending" in the stimulus package, including "$140 million for something called 'volcano monitoring.'" Was Jindal actually mocking the notion of spending money on advanced early-warning technology that could help protect Americans who live near active volcanoes, such as Alaska'a Mount Redoubt? He was. And sure enough, earlier this week Mount Redoubt erupted for the first time in 20 years, spewing ash 50,000 feet in the air and forcing 19 airline cancellations. Nobody was hurt this time, but the government geologists are using that stimulus money to shore up their monitoring of other active volcanoes, including Mount St. Helens, which killed 57 people in 1980. To put Jindal's definition of "wasteful spending" in perspective: That $140 million "for something called 'volcano monitoring'" is literally less money than we spend in Iraq during the span of a single day.

Or perhaps the next leader is...Dick Cheney? I'm not kidding; the ex-veep has been volunteering himself lately, warning darkly in interviews that Obama is putting America at risk for another terrorist attack. But no, he won't be the face of the party - because not even Republicans want him out there. Jack Duncan, a Republican congressman from Tennessee, said the other day, "He's become so unpopular while he was in the White House that it would probably be better for us politically if he wouldn't be so public." A Duncan colleague, Zach Wamp, added: "With all due respect to former Vice President Cheney, he represents what's behind us, not what's ahead of us." Translation: Cheney, do us all a favor and go back to your secret undisclosed location.

Or maybe it's an ensemble deal, starring all the House GOP leaders? Hard to imagine that, after yesterday's comedy act. With great fanfare, they unveiled a 19-page document entitled "Road to Recovery" - their alternative budget manifesto, which was presumably designed to demonstrate that they actually do have specific ideas. But the problem was that their budget document budget numbers, no budget estimates, no budget specifics. Instead, it was simply a recap of GOP principles; you will be shocked to learn that the document called for bigger tax cuts and more deregulation. But that's only half the story. It turns out that, within the minority House ranks, prospective GOP leader Eric Cantor was ticked off at prospective GOP leader Mike Pence for putting out this vague document in the first place. Cantor let it be known that he was "embarrassed," and a Cantor ally dissed Pence for "his egocentric rush to get on camera." Is there a party leader in the bunch? These guys are like alley cats fighting for scraps.

Or, what the heck, perhaps the GOP could take a risk and anoint...Meghan McCain. The daughter of John has kicked up a lot of dust lately. She wrote on her blog that young voters will never flock to the GOP as long as the party is championed by the likes of Ann Coulter (McCain on Ann: "I find her offensive, radical, insulting"). But maybe young McCain is too raw and feisty to lead. After she dissed Coulter, she got dissed in return by radio host Laura Ingraham, who mimicked McCain's Valley Girl voice and mocked McCain's weight by calling her "plus-sized." McCain then retaliated by sending a pungent message to Ingraham: "I'm like, 'Kiss my fat ass!'" Is America craving for a Republican leader who emerges victorious from a middle school food fight? You go, girl!

Maybe the Republicans are simply hoping that somewhere, in a secret lab that refuses federal stimulus money, Ronald Reagan has been cloned. As if.


Permit me to correct something in yesterday's post: Contrary to what I wrote, the newspaper in Des Moines, Iowa still does have a reporter based in Washington. Yo, Iowans, keep hope alive.