New York Times columnist Ross Douthat penned a thoughtful column this weekend, noting that Mitt Romney’s debate performance last Wednesday might have finally elevated him to the position of “leader” of the Republican Party.
“In 90 prime-time minutes,” Douthat writes, “the country had a glimpse of what our politics might look like if the Republican Party actually had a leader again.”
Douthat is right that the GOP has essentially been leaderless since about 2006, but he attributes this to the GOP lacking a de facto leader during that time.
As I noted in the Guardian a few weeks ago, however, the problem is deeper that that:
“Who are we – and why are we here?”
The GOP is running on fumes. Like a copy of a copy of a tape, conservatives have been living off the legacy of Ronald Reagan for decades.
The cold war was the glue that united the conservative movement. Each leg of the stool – social conservatives, fiscal conservatives and national security conservatives – had their own reasons for uniting to defeat the Communists. Reagan benefited from this unity, as well as from his own ability to inspire, and knew how to play it.
We can quibble about the complexity of the problem, but we agree that it is possible for an inspiring and visionary leader to fix it.
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My column was penned before Romney’s terrific debate performance; Douthat had the benefit of knowing what I could not know. Thus, having seen Romney summon an impressive rhetorical performance, Douthat believes it is at least possible that Mitt Romney could be the change agent the GOP has been searching for.
As Douthat concludes:
The Reagan nostalgia, the fears of looming socialism, the paranoia about a shiftless 47 percent: They are all symptomatic of a party on the brink of transition rather than one incapable of change. Republicans seem to be clinging to the past mostly because their leaders haven’t shown them what they should stand for in the present.
The only question, as we head into the final four weeks of the campaign, is whether Mitt Romney has realized this a little bit too late.
The very fact that we are having this discussion about whether or not Mitt Romney (Mitt Romney!) can be a visionary and inspirational change agent capable of leading the GOP out of the wilderness is indicative of just how well he did during last week’s debate. Can he continue to rise to the occasion?