Maybe I should say “if you LEAD it, they will come” but I liked the movie, so let me run a minute. Define “It” as Leadership and “They” as the conservative base of the Republican Party. The Republican Party has NO Leader right now. We have leaders, men and women who shine from time to time at varying wattages but they don’t continue to lead. They drop back into the shadows, in most cases continuing to fight the good fight but still not leading, at least not leading the entire Party. We can’t nominate and elect one, we can’t draw straws and we sure as hell can’t pick the “most electable”! That Leader can volunteer, step forward and say “I will be the Leader of the Republican Party” to be confirmed by us, or they can be found and thrust into the position by us, in which case they will have to accept the proferred Leadership Role.
History shows great leaders under both circumstances who range the spectrum of success and failure. In each instance that success or failure was decided by the individual.
MacArthur in the Pacific Theater of WW II definitely thrust himself into the Leadership Role and fought hard to keep it. His success in the Pacific, a secondary effort to the European Theater, was brilliant. His later landing at Inchon forever earned him a place in the annals of military history. He turned his flight from the Philippines to a personal victory, his triumphant return was a brilliantly directed media event, his internecine battles with naval commanders and politicians became legendary and eventually led to his downfall.
Lincoln is another who actively sought leadership, though after achieving the sought after role as President soon found himself thrust into a role he did not want, that of Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces during the bloody Civil War that followed. Once thrust into that he didn’t shrink from the additional dread responsibility and provided leadership that few, if any other, could have. In November 1863, after instituting an extremely unpopular draft, President Lincoln spoke, following a two hour, 13,601 word oration by former Senator and Secretary of State Edward Everett. In Everett’s case, Lincoln was right when he said “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here,” and he continued to a tremendous closing.
…but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
In less than two minutes his words, until recently required memorization in schools through out the land, eclipsed those of Mr. Everett and the “dedication to the great task” of preserving the Union he espoused was rallied to nationwide. Citizens filled the ranks when called by the draft and in November of 1864 Lincoln was re-elected.
Generals Hooker, Burnsides and Meade actively campaigned for leadership of the Army of the Potomac, previous performance aside, each failed miserably upon attaining their goal. US Grant, on the other hand, was busy quietly leading his men in the western theater. In his own quiet, deliberate fashion he built his leadership on absolute dependability, trust and a true concern for the welfare of his men. During the Battle of Shiloh, William T Sherman, Grants subordinate, found himself on the verge of defeat, saved only by the timely arrival of additional forces led by Grant. The two Commanders had no communication and Grant was reacting blind when he arrived “in the nick of time”. Sherman’s explanation for the untenable position he had occupied was, “I knew wherever I was that you thought of me, and if I got in a tight place you would come, if alive.” The ability to earn such trust from a subordinate, or a constituent, is a rare quality and not earned by accident. When the leadership of the Army of the Potomac was thrust upon him, he accepted and set about providing the same leadership to his new men. Grant’s faults and shortcomings, both earlier and later in his life, were not in evidence as he set about the methodical destruction of the Army of Northern Virginia and his respected foe and former colleague, General Robert E. Lee. (The two had met during the Mexican-American War; Lee was a Captain and Grant a Lieutenant) Brigadier General Joshua Chamberlain, awarded the Medal of Honor for his leadership at Little Round Top, describes the Formal Surrender Ceremony…
“Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond;—was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured? Instructions had been given; and when the head of each division column comes opposite our group, our bugle sounds the signal and instantly our whole line from right to left, regiment by regiment in succession, gives the soldier’s salutation, from the “order arms” to the old “carry”—the marching salute. Gordon at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual,—honor answering honor.”
Grant’s concern for his men, one of his greatest leadership traits, extended now to his defeated countrymen, the dignity and respect which he showed his former foes allowed them to return home with their dignity to once again become valued members of the Union.
Ronald Reagan undeniably set about achieving the leadership of the Republican Party, 16 years and two attempts to receive the Republican nomination elapsed between his rousing “A Time for Choosing” speech for Goldwater in 1964 and his successful nomination in 1980, though his commencement speech at Eureka College in 1957 will stir your soul. Whether you start your count at ’64 or ’57 or earlier, in the intervening years he did not disappear into the shadows, he set about demonstrating his competence by applying his political values as the Governor of California, even launching a short lived campaign for the Presidency within months of his swearing in. His actions in the intervening years, both as Governor and afterward kept him in the national spotlight as he honed his leadership abilities. Even after narrowly losing the Republican Nomination in 1976, President Ford his opponent, urged Reagan to deliver a speech at the RNC Convention. While gracious in his defeat, he closed his impromptu speech with a clear challenge for the Republican Party and a clear message for President Ford.
“This is our challenge; and this is why here in this hall tonight, better than we have ever done before, we have got to quit talking to each other and about each other and go out and communicate to the world that we may be fewer in numbers than we have ever been, but we carry the message they are waiting for.
We must go forth from here united, determined that what a great general said a few years ago is true: There is no substitute for victory, Mr. President.”
Remember that 1976 was a time that the Republican Party had been pronounced dead but clearly Ford recognized Reagan’s informal leadership in the Party, and Reagan’s advice that “there is no substitute for victory” shows that he recognized and accepted it. His success four years later saw him formally the Leader of the resurgent Republican Party, the position he held until he gave it up in ‘89 to assume an informal role once again.
Sarah Palin found herself thrust into her recent leadership role, then brutally attacked, in a manner never before seen in US politics. She continues to be in the spotlight of national leadership, spurring more attacks, her reactions to those attacks show that she is honing her leadership skills and political abilities. She is one of the informal leaders of the Party, increasing that role is up to her. If she wants a formal leadership position in the Republican Party she will have to continue to expose herself to these relentless attacks and continue to hone her abilities as one of the informal leaders while she expands her role. The time necessary for that can only be chosen by her.
Many Republicans are seeking the leadership of the Party. Some of these informal leaders have been holding office for thirty years. Why haven’t they built their leadership already? True leaders would have demonstrated their leadership and earned our trust by this time, they wouldn’t have to promote themselves, the mantle would be thrust upon them. Some were formal leaders in the past, squandering their leadership in scandal. Integrity can never be taken away, only surrendered, and any semblance of leadership goes with it. Many less conservative members of the Party are seeking to increase their role, spewing advice for us like a drunken frat boy spews vomit over the porcelain throne. Collin Powell has squandered any respect he had earned by acting like a Democrat while talking about what a great Republican he is. He should know better, thank God he didn’t demonstrate such a lack of leadership when he led the Armed Forces. Others, less despicable than the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, proclaim their conservative values while their records proclaim something else entirely. Lincoln chose to disregard some of General Hooker’s shortcomings and hope for the best. One particular shortcoming provided a still popular nickname for practitioners of the “oldest profession.” Hooker’s timid performance led the Army of the Potomac, 133,000 strong, to be outmaneuvered and soundly defeated by a force less than half that size at Chancellorsville. Ignore a leaders lack of morals at your own peril.
Pundits toss out names of prospective leaders but the reactions of the prospects seem half hearted at best. Bobby Jindal’s campaign in Louisiana demonstrated the viability of a truly conservative candidate, but he seems unwilling to expand that role to the Nation. Understandably so, he worked long and hard to lead Louisiana and he is nowhere near finished. Reagan could not have been the President he was without the lessons he learned as Governor.
The Republican Party needs a Leader, if that Leader won’t build it (his leadership), they (we) can’t come; we can only wait and hope. Or, maybe, build it our damn selves. Either way, a Leader will build it and they will come, be it tomorrow or “in the nick of time”.