Leadership void

LEADERSHIP VOID…. The latest poll from USA Today/Gallup points to some interesting results about the state of the Republican Party. It notes, for example, that “one-third of Republicans now say they have an unfavorable opinion of their party.”

That’s not a good sign. (By contrast, only 4% of Democrats have an unfavorable view of their party.) It’s hard to say whether these are Republican moderates who believe the GOP has shifted too far to the right, Republican conservatives who believe the GOP isn’t far-right enough, or some combination of the two. Either way, it’s a discouraging figure for the party.

But just as important were questions about the Republican Party’s leadership, which is obviously in an awkward state in the wake of the Bush/Cheney era.

A 52% majority of those surveyed couldn’t come up with a name when asked to specify “the main person” who speaks for Republicans today. Of those who could, the top response was radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh (13%), followed in order by former vice president Dick Cheney, Arizona Sen. John McCain and former House speaker Newt Gingrich. Former president George W. Bush ranked fifth, at 3%.

So the dominant faces of the Republican Party are all men, all white, all conservative and all old enough to join AARP, ranging in age from 58 (Limbaugh) to 72 (McCain). They include some of the country’s most strident voices on issues from Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court to President Obama’s policies at home and abroad. Two are retired from politics, and one has never been a candidate.

The vacuum is only part of the problem. When a party loses power, a leadership void is inevitable and largely unavoidable. That 52% of Americans can’t think of the leading GOP voice isn’t necessarily awful; I’m a little surprised that number isn’t even higher.

More important in this case, though, is that some conservative voices are filling the vacuum, but they’re not the ones Republicans should want out in front. That Rush Limbaugh, a drug-addled radio shock-jock, was the #1 response to the Gallup question is nothing short of humiliating for the GOP.

What’s more, the results aren’t just a reflection of Democrats sticking to the party message: “Even Republicans and Republican leaners agree that these are their leaders, with more of them citing Limbaugh, Gingrich and Cheney as speaking for the party than anybody else.”

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, an adviser to McCain’s 2008 campaign, said, “It’s a problem.”

You don’t say.