8 a.m. ET: Six months after Republicans lost control of the White House and slipped further out of power on the Hill, most coverage of the party portrays it as lost in the wilderness, riven by internal conflict and searching in vain for a winning message. In the past week alone, we've read about Sarah Palin vs. Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee vs. Eric Cantor, social vs. economic conservatives, Meghan McCain vs. Bristol Palin, and so on.
Implicit in much of the coverage is the need for Republicans to find their perfect leader, the man or woman to lead them out of the wilderness. But who says the minority party can or should have one person in charge? Who was "the leader" for Democrats in 2006? The party had multiple figures jockeying for power -- Howard Dean and congressional leaders fought regularly -- and yet they still won that cycle. Newt Gingrich played a vital role for Republicans in 1994 but he was by no means the only leader of the effort, and he was a constant combatant in intraparty battles too.
Republicans are said constantly to be looking for "the next Ronald Reagan." But even his success was dependent on the circumstances being just right -- a weak Jimmy Carter, a country feeling "malaise." Reagan was the perfect marriage of man, message and moment. The same could be said of Barack Obama in 2008. Maybe the GOP will find a similar winning formula in 2012, but it doesn't neccesarily have to. The party can inch its way back to power, starting with a strong showing in next year's elections, even if it doesn't find a single leader or message behind which everyone falls in line.
The changed landscape for conservatives is evident in their nascent effort to gear up against Obama's Supreme Court nominee. The task of opposition is divided between several different groups, and none of them has the financial resources they did when Republicans controlled at least one branch of government. How might conservatives become galvanized to open their wallets for a court fight? If Obama nominates -- as some are urging -- "a bigger and bolder" liberal to replace the low-key David Souter, someone who might take a decisive role in pushing the court to the left.
Republicans will certainly find the occasional issue to unite them. Obama's budget presents one such opportunity. The GOP ripped into the president's spending blueprint yesterday for making relatively small cuts while boosting funds for a host of programs. More worrying for Obama, the proposed cuts hit "a buzz saw of opposition" from his fellow Democrats, providing a useful reminder that nearly every government program has at least one patron on the Hill and one constituency that will fight to save it.
The administration is getting most of what it wants, however, in the military supplemental spending bill that was approved by the House Appropriations Committee yesterday. The measure includes key emergency aid for Pakistan, and requires a detailed plan for how the administration plans to accomplish the politically tricky task of closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay. In the meantime, will some Guantanamo detainees be released in Northern Virginia? How long before this becomes an issue in the governor's race? A day? Five minutes?
May 8, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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