William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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THE GOP CRISIS – AT 9:15 A.M. ET:  The word "crisis" is overdone, but I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that the Republican Party is in a crisis.

It is, first of all, leaderless, and it desperately needs a leader who can pull things together and point to the future.  It is not a well-oiled machine, with a lot of local ward healers, who can keep the machine running and do enough favors for constituents to survive between elections.  At the great moments in its history, a leader has come forward to give the Republican Party its vision and momentum:  Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan.  That is why the run-up to the 2016 presidential election is so critical.  The Republicans are looking for a leader.  If they don't find a good one, and stop nominating the next guy in line, their future could be grim indeed.

In yesterday's House vote, the Republican majority leader in the House, Eric Cantor of Virginia, voted against Speaker Boehner, setting up a possible leadership battle between them.  Charles Krauthammer speculates on the possibility of a battle now between Boehner and Cantor for the speakership.  Boehner is clearly establishment.  Cantor appears to be maneuvering to be the leader of the Young Turk conservatives, most of whom voted against the fiscal-cliff deal.  Indeed, 151 Republicans voted "no," whereas only 85 voted "yes."  Cantor has a power base, but I really wonder if he was the overall support to topple Boehner.

These leadership battles, if they don't rip the party apart, are good.  They sharpen the party, expose areas of weak leadership, and give new people a chance to shine.  In yesterday's vote, by the way, Paul Ryan, the recent vice-presidential candidate, voted "yes," sticking with the speaker.  Sadly, Ryan is today seen, if not as damaged goods, as good goods undergoing warranty repairs.  I don't know if this latest vote will help or hurt him.

The Republican Party also needs a governing philosophy that is clear, consistent, and oriented around the needs of people.  Right now it has the image of a party that takes care of the needs of millionaires.  That is an unfair charge, but life is unfair.  If you're tagged with an unfair charge, don't expect your enemies to remove it.

These next few months will be crucial.  We have more upcoming fiscal and economic deadlines, the introduction of a new secretary of state and secretary of defense, and foreign-policy disasters.  The Republican loyal opposition must organize itself to rise up, oppose, and convince the American people that the Republican way is their way.

January 2, 2013