Where is the GOP’s heir apparent?
The party of the next guy has no next guy. For more than two generations, the Republican presidential nominating process has had an immutable internal logic to it: The next guy in line gets the nomination. That’s how every Republican president of the post-Eisenhower era has won his party’s nomination and how just about every GOP presidential nominee since Thomas E. Dewey (1944 and 1948) got to the top of the ticket.
The only political figure with possible claims to the title is Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the 2012 vice presidential nominee. But he is more interested in becoming chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and realizing his dream, perhaps as difficult to attain as winning a presidential nomination, of rewriting the federal tax code.
Ryan is by far the most highly regarded Republican in the House, which today is the only redoubt of the party’s power in the capital.
In ordinary times, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida might be considered the next guy up, but his prospects are complicated by the last guy up (twice removed), which was his brother, a two-term president who left the White House with low approval ratings and who remains a rhetorical punching bag not only for Democrats, who blame him for the messes in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also for Republicans, who consider him a spendthrift too eager to bail out big companies.
That is not to say that there are no Republicans maneuvering for advantage in a nomination race that is probably about three months from beginning in earnest. The three leading ones are senators: Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida.
That alone is a departure from the Republican norm, which tends to favor governors.
Meanwhile, there is a band of Republican governors, but all of them seem primed for brief presidential runs and then Cabinet positions if a Republican were to win the White House in 2016. Among them are Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Mike Pence of Indiana and Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who is in a tight race for re-election and could always run again for governor in 2018. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey also are toying with presidential campaigns, but both are big personalities difficult to imagine in a Cabinet meeting.
No rule of politics is immutable — except one. Once Cruz or Pence or one of the others wins the nomination, stands before a national nominating convention and, amid confetti and cheers, sets out to fight a general election campaign, he becomes a giant, with the potential of winning the White House. It will happen again in 2016. It always does.
David Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.