The US Republican Party, once dominant now in disarray, is beginning the search for a leader to chart a course out of the wilderness after the presidential and congressional elections disaster.
President George W. Bush and his political guru Karl Rove once dreamed of building a conservative coalition that would outlast them.
But Bush will leave Washington in January with Democrats monopolizing power in the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Worse, no leader-in-waiting is apparent who could unite the Republican Party’s increasingly diffuse power blocs in time for a rebound by 2012.
The Republicans must first find a way to respond to Barack Obama’s presidency running up to 2010 mid-term elections then turn to the already nascent 2012 presidential race.
The party must also decide which ideological path to take after bloated Bush-era deficits and congressional Republicans feeding at the trough of public money soiled the party’s brand.
The party also needs to work out how to respond to president-elect Obama’s formidable grass-roots political network, which permeated key neighborhoods in swing states.
The most powerful Republican in Washington is Mitch McConnell, the leader of the party’s battered Senate army.
With a few races from Tuesday’s election still to be decided, Democrats look set to fall short of the 60-vote super-majority needed to forestall Republican filibuster obstruction tactics in the Senate.
So McConnell is the sole check on Democrats in Congress — given that Democrats extended their dominance in the House of Representatives, triggering bloodletting among the Republican leadership.
McConnell set out his stall in his first response to Obama’s election in a statement.
“The Republican leadership stands ready to hear his ideas for implementing his campaign promises of cutting taxes, increasing energy security, reducing spending and easing the burden of an immense and growing national debt.”
Incredibly, after the longest presidential race in decades, the 2012 campaign is already stirring, with several possible hopefuls laying the groundwork for a run.
But the Republican bench is short, with no one in sight with the political magnetism of a Bush or a Reagan who could fuse the religious conservative wing of the party with its national security and economic blocs.
There has been much talk of a Sarah Palin candidacy, after the former vice presidential nominee ignited the socially conservative Republican base which failed to warm to party standard bearer John McCain.
But polls show Palin hurt the party ticket among moderates, and it is not clear if she can rehabilitate her reputation as McCain campaign insiders lash out at her competence, knowledge and political viability.
Several of the 2008 Republican candidates are also making moves.
Mike Huckabee, the wisecracking Baptist former preacher who won the Iowa caucuses has scheduled a stop in the leadoff state during a forthcoming book tour — and is maintaining his visibility with a television show on Fox News.
Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, spent tens of millions of dollars in his failed bid is also trying to stay viable.
He is seen as an economic troubleshooter, has courted conservatives since tumbling out of the race and was a ferocious advocate for McCain.
The next generation of potential Republicans meanwhile is led by Bobby Jindal, 37, the charismatic Indian-American governor of Louisiana.
With memories of the botched Hurricane Katrina relief effort in 2005 still fresh, Jindal aced his initial big test with his handling of Hurricane Gustav the first monster storm to bear down on New Orleans reconstructed levees.
But Jindal may still be too young for 2012 — and if the next election looks good for Obama, may take a pass.
Jindal has reportedly already scheduled a trip to Iowa.
Another potential candidate, who may appeal to the middle ground is Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota who was passed over as McCain’s running mate but emerged as a smooth surrogate for the party nominee.
Saturday, conservative columinist Robert Novak even floated the name of Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, to lead the Republican rennaissance — though admitted the brainy but radical former lawmaker may be a flawed choice.