Running For the RNC
On January 9, the 168 RNC members will select the next chairman of the Republican National Committee. It is pretty much universally acknowledged that the Republican party must go in a new direction—the fact that the GOP has fared poorly in the last two elections confirms that notion.
So it’s a surprise to see that current chairman, Mike Duncan, is running for reelection, and by many accounts even has a decent shot of winning. Duncan wasn’t a total disaster as chairman—but the fact that he has even a prayer of winning reelection is an example of much of what is wrong with the Republican party. His performance as chairman has been nowhere near good enough to justify giving him another term.
First, the good about Duncan’s tenure: he raised a lot of money. The RNC consistently outraised the DNC, by significant margins. Raising money is one of the RNC’s most important goals, and Duncan deserves credit here.
Now the bad: during Duncan’s time as chairman, the Republicans were crushed in a disastrous presidential election. In fairness, Duncan didn’t start with a very good hand—the Republican party faced historically low approval ratings, and John McCain wasn’t particularly good as the national face of the party.
But Duncan played his poor hand badly. The Democrat campaign was much more technologically savvy—it used the Internet, networking, and IT to mobilize volunteers. The Republican strategy was much less advanced, and depended on outdated and ineffective (at least compared to the Democrats) techniques.
Liberals don’t like Republicans because they feel they are out of touch with the country. Many conservatives are angry with the GOP because they feel that the party has abandoned its conservative principles. Duncan didn’t really address either problem—the party elite remained rich white men, while the party’s principles were the kind of watered-down, unconservative principles that angered so much of the base.
As noted, Duncan was not put in a very good situation. But he failed to make anything of his situation, the party is still weak, and needs new leadership.
There are, fortunately, plenty of strong candidates. Chip Saltsman did an excellent job of catapulting Mike Huckabee into the national spotlight. Saul Azunis did good work in Michigan as head of the Republican party there. And Katon Dawson exhibited competence in South Carolina.
But two of the strongest RNC chair candidates are Ken Blackwell and Michael Steele, two men with strikingly similar political histories. Both spent time as high-ranking state officials (Blackwell was Ohio’s Secretary of State, Steele was Maryland’s Lieutenant Governor), who ran excellent campaigns for higher office (governor and Senator, respectively) but lost in the 2006 Democratic landslide. Both men are telegenic and smart, have good organizational skills, and have strong opinions about the future of the party. And, of course, both men are black, and while that has no bearing on their competence, it does have some symbolic meaning.
Both men have gotten some impressive endorsements—Blackwell was endorsed by Steve Forbes (who, come to think of it, endorsed Rudy Giuliani in the primaries, so his endorsements haven’t always panned out), while Steele got William Bennett. Both men recognize that the party needs a new direction, and either would be a far better choice for RNC chairman than Mike Duncan.
For the record, I would be more tha
n happy with either candidate. I have liked Steele for years, and Blackwell is a very smart guy who happens to come from my state of Ohio. Either would make a very good chairman, and I would whole-heartedly support either one.