In politics, especially in presidential races, a kind of vacuum is created when a party has no heir apparent, no leadership, no vision, no consensus — or all of the above.
What can happen — actually, what did happen — is that a floundering Republican Party has been off-balance and without a succession-like plan since virtually the last days of the Ronald Reagan era.
That’s when we knew Vice President George H.W. Bush was the heir apparent to Reagan. That’s the last time the party seemed to manifest consensus around who was going to run, who was going to back the candidate and how it was all going to play out.
Because the GOP leadership has been basically adrift for a quarter of a century since — except when somebody named Bush comes on to the scene — the political vacuum has delivered a bad patch, which this year has led to the rise of Donald Trump and a collection of 16 other contenders looking to head aloft in the hot air of the GOP political chaos.
Republicans are wont to say, OK, not to worry, this will sort itself out. “We have a nomination process.” But isn’t 2016 the SuperSize version of 2012? And how did that go?
America, you’ll get to see the spectrum of the vacuum tonight on Fox TV, during a debate, if anything resembling a civil discourse can be rounded off from such an odd number and circumstance as seven would-be presidents during an opening act and then another 10 during a two-hour prime-time show.
Hillary Clinton has some ankle-biting opposition, but there is no question she is the heir apparent offering from the blue side. In fact, you could not script it any better for Democrats, for the third presidential election in a row. These last decades of GOP dysfunction must often make Democratic strategists and fundraisers chuckle and comment that the best course of action is just to stand back and watch it happen. The GOP self-destructive forces are formidable and will, at any moment, cause a pile-up at every possible intersection.
Did anybody ever think Vice Presidents Dan Quayle and Dick Cheney were the heirs apparent — or even presidential material? If so, I’ve never seen them come forward. Since this fact was also known to red-blooded Republicans in every Red State all along — that Bob Dole (bless his heart) would fail and that Dick Cheney was not going to be the 2008 nominee, and that the GOP market had nothing to sell with John McCain’s would-be VP Sarah Palin (no depth) and Mitt Romney’s would-be VP Paul Ryan (no desire) — what exactly has the Republican National Committee been thinking or doing to groom a winner with a last name other than Bush?
Nothing, as far as I can see.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus fancies himself as some sort of ringmaster, but he’s not even in the tent. He seems to suffer the same lack of leadership respect as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, who fully admits he is presiding over a wheelbarrow full of jumping frogs in the Republican caucus.
Amid the dissension, insurrection and faction teams in the GOP there is some unfounded and invisible hope for, well, something. Somebody? Anybody? But no plan to make it happen.
The first time I saw then-Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama address the Democratic National Convention, in 2004, I didn’t need a GPS to track their heir apparent.
Since the GOP has not identified, mentored or even imagined an heir apparent in more than 20 years, I wonder whether the party remembers how.
Until then, Republican America, we give you Trump, who is more “hair apparent” than heir apparent, a man who will never be elected president (thank God) but who has communicated something to the GOP that it needed to hear: You are out of touch, boring, vacillating and missing the point of the times in which we live.
Stop blaming Obama. Create real jobs that pay real money — enough to get out from under student loan and credit card debt. Commit to tax reform that can create real opportunity to build a real future. Chase the moths of inflation from our retirement closets. Get someone to lead in these directions.
If they start right now, the Republicans might find their mojo by 2020.
Robert Ehlert is the Statesman's editorial page editor. Reach him at 377-6437 or follow @IDS_HelloIdaho.