A number of Republicans privately bemoan the absence of a Haley Barbour-type figure, a chairman who could command the respect of forces outside the immediate party infrastructure and urge everyone to get on the same page. Someone who could stop Rove’s Crossroads and the anti-tax Club for Growth from their public sniping over whether electability should trump ideology — or vice versa — in the type of nominees the party picks.
But Priebus, several veteran Republicans who’ve worked with him acknowledge, is not that type of chairman. And there’s no one obvious for the job. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is up for reelection next year and looking over his shoulder. And House Speaker John Boehner is in a constant state of line-holding with his caucus.
The state of affairs has allowed Rove to remain a strong force in the party — despite his critics sensing vulnerability after raising $300 million to run ads that failed to move the needle. He emerged from 2012 dinged up by the results, but until someone unifies the party, he will remain one of its top strategists.
The party’s unsteady condition is likely to remain until it chooses a presidential nominee. Unlike the Clintons, who were de facto leaders of the Democratic Party during the George W. Bush years, the 43rd president has all but vanished from public view since Obama took office.