There are plenty of voices speaking for Republicans, so many of them that it’s unleashed a host of contradictions.
The party is trying to create a fresh identity after President Obama hammered them in the 2012 election. But it’s not quite clear who exactly speaks for the party as a whole.
Is it House Speaker John Boehner who has struggled to lead his own caucus? Is it a rambunctiously outspoken New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who blasts his fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill? Or is it Tea Party types, presidential hopefuls, cash-heavy Super PACs determined to shape elections, and radio show and TV hosts who thrive on conservative bombast.
When The Fiscal Times put the question to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor—as he sold a softer, nicer vision of the GOP at a Tuesday speech—the Virginian suggested it did not matter.
“The average American is not thinking about, kind of wondering about where the Republican party is; they’re thinking about how to make their life work, which is exactly what we talked about here today,” Cantor said. “They want to see results. And the point of my talk today is to say that we Republicans in the House are dedicated to those ends.”
But if there was a clear voice about where the GOP was headed, why has Cantor joined the ranks of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Fox News personalities and others who are talking about the party’s identity?
Each is vying for more authority. And if results are what Americans want, then the question remains as to who sets the expectations for what those results will be. Are they immigration reform as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio seeks? Are they greater deficit reduction? Are they policies that look beyond the pettiness in Washington?
Stuart Rothenberg, a prominent political analyst, noted that the Democrats have also gone through identity crises after losing presidential elections, but the GOP is currently defined by its internal rifts.
“Part of the problem is that the division within the Republican Party is pretty deep right now,” Rothenberg said. “The focus for the moment and the foreseeable future will be on differences of opinion, different strategies, different interpretations of what happened in the last election and what the party has to do next time. And when exactly will the party come together, I don’t know. Probably the first time the president makes a horrendous mistake … they’ll smell blood and they’ll get on the same page—at least for a moment.”
Here’s a breakdown of the different competing voices:
John Boehner – The 11-term Ohio congressman—known for his love of cigarettes, Merlot and golf—is the party’s top elected official. As the head of the House Republicans, he gets first priority when challenging Obama.
GOP strategist John Feehery said on MSNBC Tuesday that his position makes him by default the party’s main voice. Boehner can bring bills to the floor for a vote, or condemn them to the dustbin. “He’s the only guy who has power in Washington,” he said.
All true. But Boehner’s grip on his own caucus is tenuous. On the recent fiscal cliff deal that increased taxes on the top 1 percent, 151 Republicans went against Boehner and opposed the bill. Among the opposition was Cantor and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Ca. Likewise, 179 Republicans recently voted against a $51 billion Hurricane Sandy disaster relief bill. When Boehner speaks for the entire caucus, it’s usually to criticize Obama—a key part of Republican identity, but not the entirety of it.
2016 Contenders - Possible candidates for the GOP presidential nomination are speaking on behalf of the party. This includes New Jersey’s Christie, who blasted Boehner last month for not holding the Sandy voter earlier. Louisiana’s Jindal, who told the Republican National Committee that the GOP must stop being "the stupid party”, said its message needs to go beyond Washington’s obsession with fiscal policy. This also puts the spotlight on the 2012 vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, who claims the GOP needs to do a better job of selling its small government approach. And it brings more attention to Rubio, whose Cuban heritage makes him the go-to Republican on immigration reform.
Conservative Media – President Obama might not be a Republican insider, but he believes that conservative TV and radio hosts have too strong a grip over the Republican Party. Their rants and interviews have caused political gridlock, he recently told The New Republic.