Who will emerge as the leader of the opposition?

Hugh Hewitt asks a question today that my editor at The Fiscal Times asked me earlier this week, although in slightly different contexts.  Normally after a national-election loss, the banner-carrier would remain as the nominal head of the opposition — even in the US non-parliamentary system.  The media certainly went to John McCain after 2008’s loss, and for a while to John Kerry after the 2004 election, although by that time they had begun to see Hillary Clinton as the future of the Democratic Party.  All of the above had political offices from which to lead, however, regardless of whether they felt inclined to do so.  Mitt Romney has disappeared entirely back into private life, and the only opposition leaders at the moment in place seem to be having difficulty assuming the role:

When President first was elected John Boehner and Mitch McConnell could not actually serve as leaders of the opposition in the traditional American sense of the term because neither man had the ability to even slow down the president and the Democrats.  (Thank goodness the Democrats did so on their own or we’d be burdened with global warming craziness as well as Obamacare.)

After the 2010 elections, some balance returned to D.C. when the House passed into the control of the GOP, but the race to lead the GOP in the presidential election quickly overshadowed all else, and Boehner/McConnell and their teams were excused from opposition duties quickly though the clashes on budget, taxes and debt limit provided background to the presidential campaign.

The two years ahead thrust new roles on both men and their teams.  They can block the president’s more absurd fancies, but they also have to participate in governing to some extent because our system requires the House’s consent to do anything.

The Speaker’s and Leader’s staffs, however, don’t show any obvious signs of understanding the new media order or the relentlessness of the president’s program.  The president or Vice President Biden uses every day to push their agenda forward and belittle or divide the GOP.  Every day.  Yesterday the Obama machine, supported by its permanent allies in the Manhattan-Beltway media elite, acted to get the focus off the Hagel and Lew nominations and the Holder hold-over and they used Joe Biden and his “executive order” on guns to do so.  Today will see a different part of the carnival throwing up different aspects of stories or new story lines altogether.

Yesterday, as the day before and the day before that, there was no sign of any GOP leader anywhere, on the nominations, on the “executive order” on guns, on the key nominations.  No appearances.  No statements.  Just crickets.

In part, as I argue in my column for TFT today, that’s structural — the result of a bad election cycle and of a failed strategy on Boehner’s part.  Neither men have found the kind of resonance within the GOP to provide the kind of national opposition leadership Hugh seeks.  Plus, the necessity of having to negotiate from a position of relative weakness (thanks to those election results) will make it impossible for them to do so, even if they had the necessary qualities.

The next “opposition leader” has to come from outside the established leader positions, and has to be a relatively new voice to have the kind of credibility that the anti-establishment grassroots demands:

In order to be effective in 2014 and in 2016, the Republican Party needs to find a new voice and direction.  Those won’t come from the current class of establishment GOP figures in Washington, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell.  This isn’t meant as a criticism as much as a nod to reality.  As establishment figures in the 2012 failures, neither will have the kind of influence on Republican activists needed to clarify the mission and the message.  Also, neither operates on a clear philosophical basis, which would be difficult for any Congressional leader to do on an extended basis.  Newt Gingrich and Nancy Pelosi were exceptions to the rule; most Congressional leaders have to compromise and cut deals too often to provide that kind of leadership to the national party.

Who will rise within the GOP to provide unity of purpose and direction and return Republicans to a competitive position?  There are five Republicans to watch for their potential to lead, and what their success might mean for the direction of the GOP in the next two cycles.

I list five potential candidates that will assert themselves in 2013 as the leader of the Republican Party, at least in the rhetorical and ideological sense, if not offical.  All five hold office and have significant platforms, and each would take the GOP in different directions if successful.  The one with the best chance to unite the party’s various factions, though, is the most talented of the Class of 2010:

Marco Rubio – Of 2013’s potential leaders, none bridges the gap between the Tea Party and traditional Republican values better than Senator Rubio.  He was easily the most talented of the class of 2010, both politically and rhetorically.  His speech at the Republican convention last year was both the emotional and political high point of the week for the GOP.  Of the five Republicans to watch, Rubio has the talent to provide the most unity in the short term.  He has offered broad support for a strong military, social conservatism, and significant fiscal reform without alienating other factions in the party.  His leadership would also allow for a public image of the Republican Party that moves away in some degree from the perception of a party of old, white men – and could lift Ted Cruz and Susana Martinez, among others, to higher profiles to bolster the shift.  Furthermore, Rubio has the pole position in this leadership change, thanks to his efforts in the last two years in outreach and media strategy.

We’ll see if other candidates arise that might eclipse these five, or if some of them turn out to be less inclined to exert leadership over the fractious GOP.  I’d bet on Rubio to emerge as the go-to Republican this year, though.