GOP Ex-Presidents Missing in Action

Neither Bush is playing an active role in Republican policy debates.

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A video tribute to President George H. W. Bush and President George W. Bush is shown during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012.
A video tribute to President George H. W. Bush and President George W. Bush is shown during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012.

Here's another measure of how the Democrats are surging and the Republicans are in disarray: Former Democratic presidents—and even Democratic presidential nominees who lost—are in greater demand and have more credibility as shapers of public policy than their Republican counterparts.

Of course, Barack Obama, the incumbent Democratic president, is the most influential political figure of all. He is unrivaled as a policy advocate and has the loudest political megaphone.

In addition, there are four living ex-presidents. Two of them are Democrats, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, and two are Republicans, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

Of all the ex-presidents, Clinton is apparently in the greatest demand as a speaker and commentator, and he has been the most active as a public figure. He was particularly effective in arguing the case for President Obama's re-election last year, and his speech to the Democratic National Convention got rave reviews.

[READ: Bill Clinton Campaigning Dutifully for Obama]

Carter, the other living former Democratic president, has become a respected voice in the area of international peace-making and in fighting disease around the world.

By contrast, Bush the father and son rarely comment on public affairs, and many voters still blame George W. Bush for the country's current economic problems. Conservatives also argue that neither Bush was conservative enough.

Among the losing presidential nominees in recent years, the Democrats also have the upper hand.

The most recent GOP nominee, Mitt Romney, is playing almost no role in current policy debates since losing to President Obama in the November election. He was never particularly popular in the Republican party and conservatives seem to think he has little or nothing to add to current policy debates.

[BROWSE: More From Ken Walsh]

John McCain, the GOP nominee in 2008, lost to President Obama but stayed in the Senate where he remains a respected figure. But his role is limited because his party is in the minority.

The unsuccessful Democratic nominee from 2004, John Kerry, also remained in the Senate and is now in line to become secretary of state.

Going back to 2000, Bush won the White House by defeating then-Vice President Al Gore. Gore was initially criticized by fellow Democrats for failing to win the election. But in recent years, Gore has emerged as a credible spokesman for those who want government to limit global climate change.

Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com and followed on Facebook and Twitter.