Ten for the Road, Part 2: Which Republican Leaders Are Making an Impact?

I continue to enjoy Chris Cillizza’s interesting top 10 list of most influential in the Republican Party. While the world, needless to say, is not waiting for my utterances on the same topic, I can’t resist taking a crack at it.

My list has slightly different criteria than my previous list and focuses on the near term for the top five and then the longer term for the next five. The reason is this: President Obama is pressing two legislative initiatives that are the most dangerous, costly, and ineffective as anything seen in recent history – an overhaul of the health care system and a cap-and-trade bill. Despite President Obama’s eloquence, the public seems to get it, and public opinion is turning against these policies. If they can be defeated in their present form in Congress, it will represent a victory for mainstream America, mark the end of the Obama honeymoon, and launch the resurgence of the Republican Party.

Here is my list of the top 10 players making an impact for our party:

  1. Mitch McConnell – He has the task of holding together the forty Republican Senators, no small task. If he remains successful with this charge, it is extremely unlikely the health care or cap-and-trade bills will be enacted.
  2. John Boehner – He has a simple task in the House and so far has been enormously effective in binding the GOP together, not by partisan political force, but by sensible articulations and unity around a set of policy beliefs, and just enough comedic timing to keep things light. He is serious, but not self-serious.
  3. Doug Elmendorf – True, he’s not a Republican but the head of a Congressional Budget Office, appointed by Democrat leadership. Thank goodness he is a man of character and courage, for it is he who put a dagger in the health care plan with an accurate assessment of its true costs and deficit impact. This confirmed what Republican leaders have been saying and gave encouragement to the Blue Dog Democrats who have been highly skeptical.
  4. Bob McDonnell
  5. and Chris Christie – We have two statewide elections in a little more than three months. McDonnell is the best candidate Virginia has had in a generation and leads his opponent by 3-5 points. He is on the right side of the issues on health care, energy, and deficit spending. He will win. Christie is an outstanding candidate and leads Corzine by some twelve points currently. The same fears about taxing and spending that dominate the national scene have run Corzines’s approval in the ground, based on New Jersey’s spending and huge deficits. Both McDonnell and Christie are on the path to victory, aided in part by increasing public skepticism of President Obama’s programs and the enormous deficits and mounting debt that results. Now, one could ask: Are defeats of the health care and cap-and-trade bills combined with victories on both Virginia and New Jersey the equivalent of a straight flush for Republicans? I believe the two are related and have a fairly good probability. If so, the Republican resurgence will not only have begun but be in full swing, just as was experienced in 1993 with the victories of George Allen in Virginia and Christie Todd Whitman in New Jersey.
  6. Mitt Romney – Now I turn to the future. Romney continues to do all the right things campaigning for Republican candidates and raising large amounts for candidates and his own well run PAC. If the current recession continues, President Obama will have to assume responsibility – he may start by looking at his poorly-designed “stimulus” plan – then perhaps nobody will be better positioned than Mitt. His leadership experience and ability were not quite enough to overcome doubts in 2008, but now that he has shown he can run as confident a campaign as the current president’s, he will definitely get a strong second look as the 2012 race takes shape.
  7. Tim Pawlenty – Pawlenty is positioned to take on a leadership role among Republican Governors, is receiving top marks on his appearances around the country, and will soon be regarded as a top contender for 2012. He is showing bold leadership, even after announcing he will not run for re-election, with his promise to close Minnesota’s $2.7 billion deficit without resorting to tax increases. This means he is taking an axe to the state’s budget himself above the predictable objections of the Minnesota DFL. Too few Republicans these days are pro-active about fiscal conservatism, and those in Congress especially should pay attention.
  8. Haley Barbour – He is undoubtly the best political strategist in the Republican Party and is just as strong on policy. He will be a dynamic force as Chair of the Republican Governor’s Association and will be enormously helpful to both McDonnell and Christie. Will he or won’t he in 2012 is a guessing game we’ll be playing well into the cycle.
  9. Charlie CristMark Kirk, and hopefully Mike Castle – And other moderate candidates. My fellow conservatives may not like this one, but hear me out: Unless our party can embrace a big tent policy that welcomes moderates like my friend Colin Powell, we will not win elections. In liberal-dominated Illinois, Delaware and increasingly purple Florida, we need to be open to supporting officials who can win and will support our issues most of the time, instead of electing more Democrats who will oppose us nearly all of the time. These three plus our great conservative candidates in states like New Hampshire, Ohio, and Missouri give me great hope that we can remain a party in which conservatives and moderates can not only coexist, but flourish.
  10. Paul Ryan – As ranking minority on the House Budget Committee, his voice will continue to be heard and become more influential. And it is a clear and compelling voice. I believe Ryan could become Governor of Wisconsin if he chose to run, but he is that unusual politician who is not consumed by ambition but devoted to his constituents and his pivotal role to Congress. Stay tuned- this is a man to watch.

I have omitted my friend, Sarah Palin, as there is no clarity on her future plans. Also absent are strong and influential leaders like Eric Cantor, John McCain, and John Cornyn. We should continue to watch them, and also let’s be alert for the next step of others not now in the spotlight like Bobby Jindal and Norm Coleman. All are fine Republicans with much to bring to the table, even if not in a national campaign (or not yet). I am always keeping my ear to the ground, so please suggest others in the comments.

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