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Markos Moulitsas: A bench without a starter

Markos Moulitsas: A bench without a starter

What do you do when you’re a party with a busload full of flawed presidential wannabes that nobody really wants? 

If you’re the GOP, you call it a “deep bench” and pretend that it’s an asset. But as the party’s candidates continue to flail, the claims ring increasingly hollow — after all, what good is a deep bench if you don’t have a single starter on your team? 

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Quantity simply can’t make up for a lack of quality. 

The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol recently rattled off no fewer than 26 potential candidates, including John Bolton, Joe Scarborough, Rudy Giuliani, Allen West and Dick Cheney. And yet the lack of names with heft, gravitas and popular support doesn’t just leave Republicans in bad shape for next November, it presages an uninspiring primary season. 

The big news last week was Florida Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks GOP senator congratulates Biden, says Trump should accept results GOP lawmaker patience runs thin with Trump tactics MORE’s ascent to front-runner status, following his announcement as a bona fide contender, as several polls confirmed a surge in his numbers. But even the most cursory glance at the polls reveals that the Rubio boom is at best tepid and quite possibly illusory. The most recent poll from Fox News had Rubio’s primary support at only 13 percent, while Quinnipiac pegged it at 15 percent. CNN’s latest poll shows Rubio with 11 percent support, behind a dominant Jeb Bush with 17 percent. 

In other words, even the most popular Republicans aren’t very popular among Republicans. So while Rubio may or may not lead the field by 2-3 percent, there’s no doubt that about 85 percent of Republicans really wish someone else would win the nomination. 

That’s not a sign of a healthy party. The GOP is fragmented and uninspired, with no leading figure on the horizon capable unifying its base or even its various factions. So while the players yell “coach, put me in,” the coach — the GOP electorate — isn’t close to being able to decide to whom it should give a chance. 

And who can blame them?

Compare that to Democrats, who are showing an unprecedented level of unity around Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden to name longtime aide Blinken as secretary of State: report Understanding mixed results in Pennsylvania key to future elections What's behind the divisions over Biden's secretary of Labor? MORE. That latest Fox News poll pegged her primary support at 62 percent. In the 2008 primaries, Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaCan Biden vanquish Democrats' old, debilitating ghosts? How space exploration will help to address climate change Democrats' squabbling vindicates Biden non-campaign MORE never reached that level of support. Ever. His best showings were in the low 50s late in the primary season. 

Who needs a 26-player bench when you have the equivalent of LeBron James and Stephen Curry in your starting lineup? Democrats are happy with their choice, which is why there’s no room for a serious Clinton alternative on the ballot. There’s just no demand for one. 

Republicans, instead, are saddled with Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzMcSally, staff asked to break up maskless photo op inside Capitol Capitol's COVID-19 spike could be bad Thanksgiving preview Republican senators urge Trump to label West Bank goods as 'Made in Israel' MORE, Ben Carson and (wait for it) Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump MORE — a bench so deep that the party establishment worked overtime to recruit Bush into the contest. And while Rubio, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal and Mike Huckabee clearly weren’t cutting it, even Bush has failed to claim any real mass of party support. 

As we’ll see at the first Republican presidential debate, what the GOP has isn’t a bench. It’s a hideous, dissonant, off-key choir. Republicans will need three-row bleachers to feature them all. They’ll all get one minute to bray about freedom and the evils of affordable health insurance for all. And when the curtains drop, their own party will still dislike most of them. 

That goes double for the rest of America. 

Moulitsas is the founder and publisher of Daily Kos.