Republicans and The Elusive Quality of Leadership

Yesterday, Bill McGurn’s column in The Wall Street Journal, ” The 2012 Republican Battle Test. Why it’s a good thing there’s no obvious GOP front-runner,”  elicited close to 400 public comments.  The wide variety of the comments corroborated the disarray of the Republican field at the present moment, while the Obama campaign machine is in full stride.  Disappointment over the candidates’ inabilities to articulate a national direction, explain policy, and incite enthusiasm was clearly evident.

Over this past weekend, I came across a link to an article in Military Times, about Defense Secretary Robert Gates final graduation speech given at US Naval Academy.  The sentence of most interest?  “I have learned that real leadership is a rare and precious commodity, and requires qualities that many people might possess piecemeal to varying degrees, but few exhibit in total.” So, as we look at the Republican field, who has this particular quality?

A few weeks ago Donald Trump made a lot of noise about entering the race. The few weeks that he was seemingly everywhere in the news, his “Trump for President” website garnered close to 1 million hits.  H’mmm.  Now why is that? Could it have been the perception by people Trump was someone who could make decisions, speak in ‘plain-English’ and say what he thought, and exhibited leadership? He struck a nerve and a chord with a many Americans, and no, I’m not referring to the birther issue.

But Trump bowed out, and we have the current field of formally announced major hopefuls:  Pawlenty, Gingrich, Paul, Cain, Johnson. Romney’s announcing tomorrow.  Yet to be determined:  Bachman, Palin, Huntsman, Guiliani, Santorum.  And the latest news, Christie’s met with businessmen from Iowa urging him to run.

So as we search for this elusive quality of leadership, nowhere is its dearth more apparent than in the serious problems the candidates and Party as a whole are grappling with, including one of the most important — the Medicare issue, which is quickly turning into a debacle.  Instead of taking a page out of the 1992 Clinton playbook, which is, never let an accusation/allegation go unanswered, respond within 24 hours, the Republicans have let the Democrats own the argument.  The fact that Obamacare will cut $500 billion from Medicare has been lost in the “Medi-scare” debate.

Unfortunately, the tepid response that is being exhibited by Republicans in Congress, as well as the candidates, is an indicator that many of them signed onto the budget like the Democrats signed onto Obamacare.  Does anyone read Bills anymore? Probably 2/3 of the Republicans can’t speak sensibly about it, because they don’t understand it. They’re leaving the explanations to Ryan, and Ryan hasn’t stepped up to the plate forcibly yet.

And finally, let’s not forget the other major quality that the candidate will need to defeat Obama.  The quality that is lurking beneath the surface which candidates are aware of, but dare not speak about publicly.   That quality is the willingness to leave the Marquess of Queensbury to the history books, and take the fight to Obama on his court, under his rules.  Remember he comes from the land of Chicago, with its rich history of gloves-off politics –Daley, Sr. & Jr., Emanuel, Axelrod, among the most notable. 

If the Republicans can combine substance, leadership, and the political skills reminiscent of Carville and Atwater, then Obama is beatable. Otherwise, it’s wait until 2016, and by then it WILL be too late.

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