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. It’s certainly how Barack Obama’s two opponents, Sen. John McCain and former Gov. Mitt Romney, were nominated.
But just as the Republican Party is going through one of its periodic struggles for identity — earlier such battles were fought in 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1980 and 1992 — the party finds itself without a “next guy.”
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. He is more respected among, and works more effortlessly with, Republicans on Capitol Hill than those in national circles. He’s keeping his options open, as so many political figures do at this stage of the election cycle, but knowledgeable Republicans do not consider him even a faint possibility as a presidential contender.
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.
The result is that there are no next guys — natural, plausible, believable Republican presidential candidates with a touch of the fairy dust of inevitability about them.
There are, instead, a lot of natural, plausible, believable vice presidential candidates — a remarkable bench with no apparent leader.
(David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Post-Gazette (firstname.lastname@example.org, 412 263-1890). Follow him on Twitter at ShribmanPG.)