Bill O'Reilly is right: GOP lacks leadership

Headshot image of Herman Cain
Published by: Herman Cain on Tuesday December 10th, 2013

And we don't have to wait until we hold the White House for that to change.

There was an interesting exchange last night between Bill O'Reilly and Karl Rove concerning the state of leadership, or lack thereof, in the Republican Party. To cut to the chase, O'Reilly argued that there essentially is no central leadership or authority in the GOP, and this is causing problems in all kinds of ways. O'Reilly was particularly dismissive of the idea of party chairman Reince Preibus as any sort of real leader. Preibus has no real authority with respect to policy formulation, and that creates a vaccuum in which the party has a hard time becoming united around any particular policy priorities or solutions.

Rove countered that it is inherent to any party not occupying the White House that there is a lack of central leadership.

While Rove's point is technically true, O'Reilly has the better argument - and it is not a problem that can't be solved. For the party from which the president comes, the president is always the de facto leader of his party both in terms of policy and politics - simply by virtue of the position he holds. For the party out of the White House, there is no one position anyone can hold that makes for a natural leader.

But that doesn't mean it's impossible for leaders to emerge. Leadership is about more than just a position, and in fact, it is often the case that holding a position doesn't really make you much of a leader at all. Barack Obama is in the leadership chair of the Democrat Party, but do you really see him exercising legitimate leadership? I don't. I see him basking in his position and expecting to be treated like a leader. I don't see him really leading.

Leadership is achieved when a person can set a vision, persuade people to buy into the vision, set a clear way forward to achieve the vision that people are willing to become part of . . . and of course, take real action to achieve it. It is possible to do all this without being in an official leadership position.

Sixteen years before he was elected president, Ronald Reagan become a national leader in the conservative movement by virtue of his historic nominating speech on behalf of Barry Goldwater at the 1964 Republican National Convention. Of course, Reagan did not merely build his case for the presidency by giving a single speech (like Barack Obama did). He also applied the conservative principles he espoused as governor of California. He laid out the vision. But he also took real action to achieve it.

By the time 1980 arrived, the Republicans were out of power, but they had a leader. It didn't matter that Reagan no longer held elective office at that point. He was the leader. He was leading.

The Republican Party of today needs that kind of leader. I am not saying we need to find another Reagan because there was only one Reagan, and because Reagan was the right leader for his time. These times call for a leader who is prepared to meet the challenges of today - someone who can speak for and lead the party on a whole host of crucial policy imperatives.

One consequence of lacking leadership is that much of the country doesn't even know what the Republican Party stands for, because there is no one who speaks with the authority and effectiveness to articulate it. For example, most of the country believes the Obama lie that the Republicans have no alternative to ObamaCare. That is complete nonsense, but one of the reasons people believe it is that they wouldn't know who to look to in order to find out what the alternative is.

I am not suggesting there shouldn't be different policy proposals debated within the GOP. A healthy discussion of ideas is one of the things that helps yield the best ideas. But without leadership, there is no way to turn that debate into an action plan. All you have is a bunch of factions arguing with each other.

That is one of the reasons I recently sponsored the Pick-a-Tax-Plan vote. Most every Republican agrees that the current tax code is a problem, and there have long been multiple proposals for how to change it. But leadership is necessary in order to get the party behind one idea that is worth fighting for. Without leadership, there is lots of talk but no unity and no action. And no success.

We've already seen the consequences of absent leadership in the electoral process. After Obama's abysmal performance in his first term, we should have won the White House and won control of the Senate. But from the start of the process, the Republican Party wasn't even really sure what it wanted to do with the power it was seeking, and that made it easy for Democrats to change the subject to nonsense like Big Bird and the "war on women" crapola. They define us because we weren't effective at defining ourselves.

You don't need to hold the presidency to find a leader. You just have to find someone who knows how to lead, and is willing to do so. That can be done, and for the Republican Party, it must be done.