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West on ambition and the GOP

Darrell West, a former Brown University political science professor now at the Brookings Institution in Washington, will deliver a talk on the post-election political landscape at the Newport Art Museum on January 5.

I did a Q&A with him in advance of his appearance. It'll run in this week's Phoenix. But I wanted to highlight one of his most interesting points here.

The gerrymandering of Congressional districts - deep red or deep blue - has yielded some rather unyielding conservatives. I asked Darrell, at one point, if a GOP powered by these conservatives is equipped to make the sort of post-election adjustment - appealing to Latinos and young voters - that the November results demand.

Here's what he said, in part:

There are Republicans representing very conservative districts who have no incentive to compromise. But there are other Republicans who want to make a name for themselves nationally – run for the Senate, run for governor, or maybe one day run for president. They have to worry about the national situation, and not just what exists in their particular Congressional district.

That, as much as any deep concern for party, explains the post-election calls of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush or Senator Marco Rubio for moderation on immigration reform. And these figures, with their national profiles, should have an outsize influence on the GOP's direction.

But the emphasis, here, is on "should."

Before the election, the Tea Party wing of the Republican caucus didn't show much deference to the party's leadership. And Speaker of the House John Boehner's inability to push through his own pre-cliff legislation suggests the party barons still have a real struggle on their hands.

Moreover, Rubio's vote against the final fiscal cliff deal, which passed the Senate on an 89-8 vote, suggests the party's brightest stars are at least as concerned with appealing to the party's base as with nudging it to the center.

That sort of pandering proved ruinous for Mitt Romney in the last election. The party, more than anything else, needs a leader with the charisma to appeal to the base and the chutzpah to demand moderation. And for my money, there is only one figure who fits that profile: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

As far as I'm concerned, the GOP's fortunes as a national party - in the near-term - are hitched to his star.  

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