The Republican Party’s leadership vacuum (and who might fill it)

The Republican Party has effectively shown Mitt Romney the door, thanks to his controversial comments about Obama's "gifts."

So who is the voice of the GOP now?


Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). (Edward Linsmier/Getty Images)

The party finds itself in the unenviable position of having to reinvent itself -- something most top GOP strategists and lawmakers agree needs to be done -- without an obvious standard-bearer to carry that message on a daily basis.

Even in 2009 and 2010, before the GOP presidential race, Mitt Romney was pretty clearly the presidential frontrunner and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was coming off his presidential campaign. McCain might have lost, but he did so with his reputation largely intact and had been a big voice in the party for a long time.

In addition, Republicans didn't have to do much in 2010 besides capitalize on the opportunities presented to them. Even as they made big gains, their party brand remained in poor stead.

Today, they could use a leader/leaders to rebuild that brand. If Romney can't be that guy (and we're not sure he was ever going to be), that leaves a void.

And as we know, politics abhors a vacuum.

We're already seeing some potential 2016 presidential candidates trying to fill that space, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R). Both have been significantly more outspoken in recent days.

But at least for now, it's not obvious that either of them -- or anybody else -- will emerge as the preeminent voice of the party. And that could be less than ideal for a party in need of, cohesion, leadership and a steady hand. (That's also when conservative voices outside the party structure -- Rush Limbaugh, for example -- can take on increased importance.)

Indeed, many top GOP strategists see a bullpen-by-committee approach as the most likely outcome.

Here's a look at some of the top voices in the party, and where they fit:

* Rubio: Rubio's political ascent seems almost perfectly timed. As the party's most experienced young Latino politician, he checks a lot of the boxes when it comes to reinventing the so-called party of old white men. "Rubio is a natural to address and help us solve our 'immigration problem,'" said longtime GOP strategist David Norcross. "He has first-hand experience and a great deal of earned respect from the Hispanic community and the GOP at large."

* Jindal: Jindal checks many of the same boxes as Rubio, as a young, Indian-American rising star with a good reputation. He's also the newly installed chairman of the Republican Governors Association, which gives him a national platform. But his first entree into national politics, of course, didn't go well, and he's not yet a household name for most Americans.

* Paul Ryan: The question is whether Ryan returns to his role as the House GOP's budget policy guy or goes for more of a public profile. He can have that profile if he wants it, by virtue of his vice presidential nomination. "Paul Ryan will be watched closely and has an opportunity to distinguish himself," said Republican National Committeeman Henry Barbour.

* Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell: The understated McConnell has always been more of an inside political player than the public face of the GOP. What's more, he's got a reelection campaign to worry about in 2014.

* House Speaker John Boehner: Boehner is the most powerful Republican in Washington and may be the most likely candidate to step forward and carry the party banner. But shepherding legislation through the House is a full-time job. "The Speaker becomes the Capitol Hill leader of the party," said one GOP strategist plugged into the Hill. "(McConnell) will let Boehner play Mr. Outside, and Sen. McConnell will play Mr. Inside..."

* New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: Christie has a reelection campaign in 2013, but if he wins, he will head the RGA in 2014 and should assume a major national role. The question is whether GOP concerns about him praising President Obama's hurricane response a week before the election will be forgotten by then.

* McCain: McCain, of course, was the GOP presidential nominee, but he's always been regarded with some caution by the conservative base, and he's definitely an old white man. But he'll continue to be a big voice and formidable presence -- particularly on issues of foreign policy.

* Reince Priebus: The Republican National Committee chairman is a capable messenger, but the role of party chairman isn't as powerful as it once was. Assuming he runs for another term this January (and wins), Priebus is likely to focus more on guiding the party internally than carrying its external message.

* Rick Santorum: The second-place finisher in the GOP presidential primary is usually viewed as the favorite for next time, but that won't be the case with Santorum. He's more of a conservative activist than the face of the party, and his uncompromising conservative style isn't really what the party wants to project right now.

* Jeb Bush: If Bush has designs on running for president in 2016, you can expect to hear from him shortly. He's been a little quiet in recent years, but we're now four years removed from his brother's presidency. Few in the party are as well-regarded as Bush, and he's been pitching moderation on immigration for a long time. "Jeb Bush could play a significant role in helping the party get the tone and policy right," Barbour said. Bush is a strong candidate to step forward.

RGA names leadership: As expected, Jindal was named the head of the RGA on Thursday, while Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was named vice chairman.

Jindal is expected to serve until Christie takes over following the 2013 election.

The RGA's board will consist of Christie, outgoing RGA Chairman Bob McDonnell (Va.) and Govs. Rick Scott (Fla.), Susana Martinez (N.M.), Tom Corbett (Pa.) and Nikki Halley (S.C.).

Bera ousts Lungren: Another House race has been called, with Democrat Ami Bera being declared the winner over Rep. Dun Lungren (R-Calif.) after extending his lead to more than 2 percent.

Bera came up just shy of beating Lungren in 2010 and now beats him in a newly drawn district.

With the win, the House GOP's majority stands at 234-197, with four races left, all of which currently favor Democrats.

Fixbits:

Did gay voters deliver Obama the popular vote? That's what it looks like.

Obama tours areas of the East Coast damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

A very interesting look at nine Libertarian Party candidates who might have flipped their races for the Democrats (i.e. they got more of the vote than the Democrat won by).

Advisors to Sen.-elect Tim Kaine (D-Va.) say the ads run by outside groups in their race were "total crap" that didn't do their cause any good.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) ended his bid for Democratic caucus vice chairman on Thursday and backed rival Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.).

Sam Adam Jr., who has served as attorney for both Rod Blagojevich and singer R. Kelly, is considering running for Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s (D-Ill.) seat if Jackson resigns due to a federal investigation.

Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar apologizes for threatening to punch out a reporter.

Must-reads:

"GOP governors back away from Romney remarks" -- Karen Tumulty and Dan Eggen, Washington Post

"The Fiscal Cliff, Explained" -- Jackie Calmes, New York Times

"G.O.P. Governors Meet, Amid Whispers of 2016" -- Jeff Zeleny, New York Times

"In ‘fiscal cliff’ talks, Boehner must deal with tough GOP caucus as well as Obama" -- Rosalind S. Helderman and David A. Fahrenthold, Washington Post

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.

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