During an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” the former Senate Majority Leader gave his fellow Republicans a piece of advice: “I think they ought to put a sign on the National Committee doors that says closed for repairs until New Year’s Day next year and spend that time going over ideas and positive agenda.”
Ask any Republican and they probably agree with Dole. The party suffered two resounding defeats in the 2008 and 2012 presidential races, and gains made in the 2010 midterms look like the exception rather than the rule. The party continues to feud openly in the Senate over its direction.
But, of course, that’s not how politics works. The party has to try and reinvent — or at least refocus — itself while continuing to compete in races around the country. They don’t have the luxury of shuttering the Republican National Committee to develop a policy agenda around which the broad swath of the party has to rally.
Instead, Republicans have to try to elect Ken Cuccinelli as governor of Virginia and reelect Chris Christie as New Jersey governor. They have to deal with the 2014 election, hoping to avoid — particularly in the Senate — the primary problems that have cost them somewhere between two and five seats over the past two cycles. And then there is the already-underway 2016 presidential race.
Unfortunately for Republicans, it’s a near certainty that they will remain in this sort of political no man’s land until they pick a presidential nominee and he or she provides the policy direction that the GOP so badly needs. ”Somebody has to stand up and say, we’re going to do this,” Dole said, explaining the Senate gridlock, but in a statement that could hold well for the broader party.
But there is simply no one with the profile and power within the party at the moment to do that. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) seem to have the best cases to make, but the former doesn’t seem interested in playing that role at the moment and the latter is still a bit politically green.
This sort of inability to lead/be guided out of the political wilderness isn’t a new thing. Remember that Democrats were in a similar state for 12 years during the 1980s and early 1990s until Bill Clinton and his “new Democrat” policy agenda emerged out of Arkansas.
Republicans have to hope that they have a Clinton-in-waiting come 2016. In the meantime, they will have to muddle through — accepting the policy disagreements and warring factions as unavoidable side effects of trying to re-imagine the party while also trying to win races.
Chris Cillizza is a writer for Slate.