In the wake of the Conservative Political Action Committee convention, it has become conventional wisdom that the Republican Party now rests in the hands of Rand Paul and Marco Rubio. Rand Paul jumped to the fore on the issue of domestic use of drones, taking a stance that would have ignited the political left were an earlier Bush still in the White House. Republican fascination with Rubio seems somewhat overdone, as he has yet to deliver a notable speech or show particular leadership, beyond the issue of immigration where his leadership remains to be validated by visible evidence of followership across the party he purports to lead.
The depth of the animus that divides Ds and Rs has been remarkable in the effective censoring of cross-party alliances, even where there should be strong affinities, whether of politics or principle. Ron Wyden's support of Paul's filibuster should have found broad support on the left, as nothing could offer a more daunting foreshadowing of an encroaching national security state than the image of drones policing first our borders and then our cities. The President's casual response "Not yet" to Senator Paul's question about whether he had authorized the domestic use of drones may have sounded like the tongue-in-cheek remark of a man enjoying baiting an adversary, but seemed misplaced given the gravity of the topic.
But if Paul and Rubio were the stars of the party, Sarah Palin's reemergence as the belle of the CPAC ball was a stark reminder of how far the GOP has fallen. This was once the party of laws and order. Candidates waited their turn and did not show up the central command. The battles between the right and the farther right--Goldwater and Rockefeller, Reagan and Ford--were largely resolved out of the public eye. By contrast, today's Republican Party is in uncharted waters, and for the first time in decades, there is no simple template. For the first time since Ronald Reagan trounced Poppy Bush, the shibboleths that emerged in Reagan's name are withering.
Jeb Bush is supposed to be the grownup. He is governor with gravitas and substance in a party now deeply in need of both. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul make for good copy, but neither is going to be the GOP candidate three years from now. The Republican Party bench is in disarray, and Jeb may well be the Party's most viable candidate.
After a bad first month, Jeb Bush may decide that he does not have the fire anymore, that he is not willing to take on the peasants with pitchforks that undid his father or bother with the lunacy of Sarah Palin's act or entourage. But he has a real opportunity. For the first time in decades--perhaps since his father denounced Ronald Reagan's voodoo economics in the 1980 primaries--the old Republican playbook has run its course. In the chaos of today's GOP, Jeb Bush can actually write his own script, he can say what he really believes. But so far, that possibility has not sunk in. Because so far, he has not said anything at all.