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Republican party looks to define itself
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These are nervous times for Republicans. After losing an election that should have been a cakewalk, Mitt Romney is back for more. After years of middling performance and sagging approval, Barack Obama's ratings have risen to roughly where Ronald Reagan's and George W. Bush's were at the same point in their presidencies. No wonder that seemingly every well-known Republican officeholder wants to run for president.
The list is long and growing longer. Beyond the predictable - Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Chris Christie and so on - the GOP has on offer the likes of Carly Fiorina and Sen. Lindsey Graham.
The temptation for Republicans is to worry that too many candidates will crowd the field. Since George W. Bush left office, every presidential primary has acquired more than a whiff of a freak show - with dud candidates like Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich creating political circuses that ultimately amounted to nothing. It all compounds the adage that the quicker a nominee is selected, the sooner he or she can train fire on the other party's pick.
On balance, however, Republicans ought to relax. Today, the GOP is stuffed to the gills with varying ideas and varying kinds of talent. It's natural to see successful politicians whose careers have matured throw their hat in the ring. And, after two consecutive defeats, it's natural that this horse race to be lacks a runaway leader.
Look at the Democrats' experience in 1992 - the year they crawled back from political oblivion. In that election cycle, their field of presidential hopefuls was derided as a pack of dwarves. Ross Perot commanded more attention. But the party tidied up its ideological house, homing in on a theme and a style that came to serve them - in spite of it all - better than they'd been served in a generation. Clintonism is still alive in the Democratic Party. In fact, it's difficult to imagine where the Left would go without it.
In the same way, Republicans have a chance to let their crowded field winnow itself down to a few clear and coherent choices. Sure, the primary season might be a disaster. It might lead to the internecine war that so many Republicans have long feared.
Then again, the Right has a way of smoothing things out when it's crunch time. Why not define today's GOP along the way?