Whatever you think of House Speaker John Boehner, a motion introduced this week by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., was a perfect metaphor for how many conservatives feel about the Republican leadership.

"Declaring the office of speaker of the House of Representatives vacant." To some conservatives, this isn't the text of the latest failed coup against Boehner. It is a description of a leadership vacuum that extends far beyond the speakership.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was, according to these conservatives, elected on the basis of a plan to repeal Obamacare. Instead he was on the side of those trying to rescue a big-government program conservatives had actually killed — one that Barack Obama once admitted was "little more than a fund for corporate welfare" — the Export-Import Bank.

Tempers flared on Capitol Hill as Ted Cruz accused McConnell of telling "every Republican senator" and the media "a simple lie." Boehner dismissed the revolts Tuesday. "You've got a member here and a member there who are off the reservation — no big deal," he said.

A Washington Post headline said McConnell "went gangsta on Ted Cruz and Mike Lee."

Sniping and infighting in Washington are no big deal. But the Republican establishment, loosely defined, has a crisis of legitimacy. There is a nontrivial portion of the party's base that doesn't trust it and in some cases see their own leaders as a bigger obstacle to conservative goals than the Democrats.

"[T]he powers that be at the GOP pinnacle must go," one such conservative activist wrote me during the primaries last year. "We have no chance as long as these fools continue at the helm."

Conservatives have failed to chart a plausible alternative course, however. Their legislative maneuvers are often less viable than those pursued by the leadership they would like to replace. And those leadership replacement efforts have often been half-baked.

The resulting vacuum has too often been filled by charlatans and grifters seeking to stoke conservative anger — the most prominent example being a celebrity with big hair and an even bigger voice who has suddenly taken over the Republican race for the 2016 presidential nomination.

Many conservatives don't trust Republican leaders to secure the border or enforce immigration laws. They don't trust them to cut spending or shrink the federal government. They don't trust GOP bigwigs to repeal, much less replace, Obamacare. They don't think they'll defund Planned Parenthood, much less overturn Roe v. Wade.

These sentiments are hardly useful. The perceived establishment candidate usually wins the Republican presidential nomination. Most Tea Party primary challenges fizzled last year. But Pew found that only 41 percent of Republicans expressed a favorable view of the GOP congressional leadership. Since January, the party's favorability among its own members has tumbled 18 points.

That's why some of the most popular conservative fundraising emails take aim at the GOP leadership's jobs, not President Obama's. And it is why Jeb Bush, the son and brother of the last two Republican presidents, has trailed a man who once shaved professional wrestling promoter Vince McMahon's head on television in the last five national polls in the RealClearPolitics polling average.

The end result is a party divided between people who show no interest in governing and people who define governing as splitting the difference with the Democrats. We also have an electorate divided between voters who think the GOP is too ideologically extreme and the party's own voters, who often think it is weak-willed, RINO-dominated and unprincipled.

"Why does the Republican Party exist?" asked the Federalist's Ben Domenech. "[D]oes it have actual principles and priorities it seeks to make a reality?"

Facing a flawed and beatable likely Democratic nominee in Hillary Clinton in an important election, that isn't the question Republicans should want to be focusing on. That it has to be asked at all is not a good sign. The party has problems for which conservative anger has proved an inadequate solution.

Looking at state capitols and congressional delegations, the news for Republicans is far from all bad. But the first deficit the party needs to solve is the one at its top. The furthest-thinking consultants advising Republican candidates might aptly quote Pogo's aphorism: "We have seen the enemy and they is us."