The Republican Party’s Poor, Decimated Bench

There’s a passage in the introduction to The Loudest Voice in the Room where author Gabriel Sherman is establishing the political power that Fox News CEO Roger Ailes wields (nakedly and shamelessly) over the Republican Party. Ailes dismisses John Huntsman, who shared many characteristics with Mitt Romney, other than his beliefs in evolution and climate change. He never warmed up to Romney, either; in fact, he dismissed most of the 2012 candidates, and instead sent emissaries to Chris Christie and David Petraeus. (Petraeus, at this time, was still commanding U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, so this was no small trip.)

Christie and Petraeus had both had their moments as the Great White Hope of the Republican Party, so Ailes wasn’t inventing something out of whole cloth. But it’s worth considering whether either man would have actually survived the 2012 campaign.

For Petraeus, the answer is almost certainly not. By 2012, Petraeus was already having an affair with Paula Broadwell, and the entire world knows how that turned out. He could have been the Republican John Edwards: damaging enough for a candidate who lost, but devastating to the party if he’d actually been their nominee.

Christie presents a more interesting case, because while his current bridge-traffic scandal wouldn’t have happened yet, it’s not clear the Christie Myth would have survived the scrutiny of a presidential campaign. But hey, he sure likes to yell at people a lot.

If both of Ailes’ dream candidates have imploded for unforeseen reasons in the years since he tried to headhunt them, it’s not Ailes’ fault and it doesn’t make him stupid. Indeed, Sherman’s book argues quite the opposite. But Christie joins Petraeus, Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, and a handful of others as the men (sorry, Palin and Bachmann, the party is scared of women) to lead the party to whatever post-Dubya success looks like. At this point, success looks a lot like “Dubya” again, except that not even the Bush Matriarch thinks the country needs another one of her brood.

One name that hasn’t been part of the recent conversation is Condoleezza Rice. Rice has kept a relatively low profile (as such things go: she did speak at the 2012 RNC convention) which could be an advantage. She has, after all, been silent on birth certificates, death panels, budget showdowns, and the whole spectrum of GOP madness.

That, of course, could be her undoing. There are persistent rumours that she may have even voted for the Kenyan Usurper in 2008, she’s squishy on a woman’s right not to have her libido regulated by the U.S. Congress, and God even knows what she thinks about all dem illegals. She may have presided over some of the worst national security blunders in the history of the American Republic, but she may not actually be terrible enough for the Republican Party, c. 2016.

So who’s left? Paul Ryan is still around and hasn’t obviously humiliated himself. Rick Perry couldn’t manage to count to three in 2012 but is now talking marijuana decriminalization in Texas, which sounds like it means something. (Colorado and Washington sit there, mocking the drug war crowd in all their Super Bowled glory.) Rand Paul couldn’t even manage to be right about drone strikes, which is a shame, because somebody really should be.

But none of them seem like someone we have to obviously take seriously, the way Hillary Clinton has been since 2002ish, or the way Barack Obama emerged from his 2004 DNC speech as a contender. The GOP, at the moment, has no bench. That would be fine if the only effect was for the Republicans to keep losing elections for the foreseeable future, but the GOP seems to go absolutely nuts when it’s out of power: the Obama-era madness is bad, but is of a kind with the stuff from the Clinton years.

So the party is stuck with a chicken-and-egg problem: too crazy to produce a viable candidate, but with no incentive to go un-crazy until there’s a leader to support. And perhaps not even then: Todd Akin had to know he was hurting Mitt Romney nationally, but didn’t let it stop him from musing about “legitimate rape.”

It’s a sucker’s game to try to figure out who will eventually lead the Republicans, especially two years before the first primary. The more serious question is whether the party is ready to make the slow, difficult march back from crazytown in the hopes of beating Hillary Clinton (or whoever the Democrats nominate) in 2016.

Image via Gage Skidmore / Flickr