In the Senate struggle over the continuing resolution — amid the moral preening, intemperate language and sheer irresponsibility of a block of right-wing Republicans who have brought the worst elements of the blogosphere to the floor of the U.S. Senate — two things became clear. First, none of the participants should come anywhere near the Oval Office except by invitation. Second, there better be a governor out there who can lead the party or the GOP is headed for another two-term Democratic president.
Consider how badly these presidential strivers have conducted themselves over the last few months. Remember, we are talking about people who think (even if they don’t publicly say so) they should be president, commander in chief and leader of the free world.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), once thought by a large segment of GOP opinion makers and political activists to be the future of the party, shepherded the immigration reform bill through the Senate. Then he went mute on the topic in the wake of the right-wing backlash, raced to embrace the entirely unworkable “defund” strategy and voted against authorization for use of force as the isolationist wing of the party did (after establishing himself as the most outspoken internationalist of a new generation of potential leaders). Previous supporters are disgusted. His standing in early presidential polling and in favorable/unfavorable surveys has sunk like a stone. Apparently, all the money spent on advisers and communications staff has been wasted; a fall in popularity has rarely been so swift and steep for a politician (at least one with no scandal to account for the collapse). Maturity, resoluteness, and consistency are entirely absent. The Oval Office? Puleez.
Then there is Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who began the year with a promising visit to Israel. It was downhill from there. He defended “containment” of Iran at the Heritage Foundation; staged a filibuster and then became obsessed with the potential for droning undesirables at cafes; attacked the successful National Security Administration (NSA) surveillance program (advancing an incorrect view of the Fourth Amendment); hired, defended and eventually fired the pro-Confederate Southern Avenger; made a widely panned trip to Howard University; extolled the virtues of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (he is good for Christians!) in the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee; promised tech executives he was for immigration reform and then managed to find a reason to vote against it; and voted against cloture on the House continuing resolution (after saying he would vote for it). To be blunt, he’s shown himself to be his father’s son, albeit in a more refined and likeable form.
Next in the Senate cast of characters is Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) who, despite his lawyer’s training, championed a false interpretation of Fourth Amendment and the attack on the NSA program; advanced no innovative agenda or found any area of expertise other than self-advancement and expert self-promotion; accused Chuck Hagel of possibly taking money from the North Koreans (to the chagrin of serious people trying to block the nomination for legitimate reasons); voted against authorization for use of force in Syria (while warning about the danger of its senior partner, Iran); and staged the continuing resolution stunt based on the falsehood that he could eventually get Obamacare defunded if only those Republicans would stick with him. Even if some in the party thrill to this display, do we think donors, business leaders and mainstream Republicans look at this and think, “Well, after Obama there’s a man who does more than talk and can get things done!”? No. Just, no.
Indeed, Rubio and Cruz bear uncanny similarities to Obama. They are freshmen with presidential aspirations but no legislative accomplishments. Both favor rhetoric over action. Both lack executive branch experience. Neither has any significant private-sector experience.
Now, even if you like one or more of these characters, it is obvious that a great many people do not and that their lack of experience, erratic conduct and deficient gravitas do not suggest presidential material. Is there any Republican like one of these who has ever come close to winning the GOP presidential nomination? (Not even the Democrats elected Howard Dean.) Aside from the folks who thought Herman Cain was the real deal, not enough Republicans could envision him as a successful presidential candidate, I suspect.
This is why I say that in 2016 any GOP governor would be a more viable presidential nominee than any GOP senator. The international scene will likely get worse, not better, before a new president takes office. Our economy remains tepid. And the same sense that “no one can govern” that dominated political conversation in the late 1970s — before Ronald Reagan showed someone could — prevails. If each election is a reaction to the incumbent president, then the party and the country in 2016 will be looking for leadership, competence and sobriety while eschewing callow rhetoric and hyper-partisanship. It is hard to imagine that the reaction to Obama, especially among Republicans, would be “More cowbell!” Hence, any governor over any senator would be an advisable mantra for the GOP.