Sunday, January 25, 2009

RNC Chairman Race: Anyone But Duncan

If Republican politics bore any similarity with football, then “Coach” Mike Duncan would have been sacked as chairman of the Republican National Committee after a 2008 “season” that resulted in the election of America’s most liberal president and expanded Democratic majorities in Congress.
But Duncan, the Rod Marinelli of RNC chairmen, has decided to seek re-election as leader of the GOP despite the drastic losses incurred under his watch in November 2008, citing party rebounds in December in which Georgia US Senator Saxby Chambliss won re-election after his race went to a runoff and the election of two new Republican congressmen in Louisiana.
Now to put things in perspective.
The win in Georgia was not surprising as the Peach State has been trending to the GOP since 1992. Chambliss’s re-election was forced into overtime mainly due to a spike in black turnout for Obama in November. The senator himself praised Alaska governor Sarah Palin’s assistance in driving up enthusiasm for his candidacy during his time of need; Duncan and the RNC not so much.
In Louisiana, Hurricane Gustav, the reintroduction of the closed primary, $90,000 in the freezer, 16 indictments and the determination of Anh Cao’s local boosters had more to do with the defeat of Democrat Bill Jefferson than anything the RNC did for the stunning Republican upset in New Orleans.
Due to the razor-thin nature of Dr. John Fleming’s victory to retain the Shreveport congressional seat for the GOP, it could be said the national party had in the 5th district, though the seat had been Republican for the past 20 years.
But even if Duncan had indeed hit a triple (in lieu of simply being born on third), the RNC chairman’s moment of victory came after the national Democrats outscored the GOP by 6 + in the US Senate and 20+ in the US House.
Yet Duncan thinks he should be given another chance.
Now it’s obvious all of the wreckage cannot be laid at Duncan’s feet. Then-President Bush entered his second term with a tin ear and zero concern for public relations. Republican nominee John McCain acquitted himself poorly as a presidential candidate. And unless Duncan walked away from a few hundred thousand mortgages, the political fallout from the financial crisis cannot be pinned on him.
However what can was the way the RNC chairman faced the adversity. While these are extraordinary times, Mike Duncan has proven himself to not be an extraordinary chairman, which is what the current political climate calls for in a party leader if we are to combat the socialization of our industry, health care system and banks.
Mike Duncan should have recognized the dark reality ahead and tacked a different course from the White House, which would have required breaking with the very president who handpicked him as chairman.
Mike Duncan never earned his ascension and didn’t do anything to establish his worthiness to maintain the office during his tenure. That he should suffer the consequences of the failed politics (not necessarily policies) of his Godfather is just. Duncan had his chance and he blew it.
Despite the party meltdown during his watch, Duncan’s candidacy for re-election cannot be dismissed. The assembled state chairmen, national committeemen and national committeewomen will have the final say on Duncan’s future and that of the party.
Regrettably, people who ascend to such positions are generally light on practical political experience. As I know from having witnessed many an intraparty election, personal loyalties established through the dispensing of favors and positions tend to trump the box scores that delineate what a chairman or party leader had wrought.
In what has become the most wide open contest for RNC chairman since 1992, Duncan is being challenged by former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, former Tennessee GOP chairman and Mike Huckabee operative Chip Saltsman, South Carolina GOP chairman Katon Dawson and Michigan GOP chairman Saul Anuzis.
Originally I was for the media savvy Steele, though it seems he has been reading too much of former New Jersey governor Christie Whitman’s failed playbook of moving the party leftward. Furthermore Steele’s record at GOPAC does not inspire confidence as someone who would be an effective fundraiser and party administrator.
Blackwell, who moved up in my personal estimation after Steele went to the center, has been elected to state office and knows the all too well the cannibalistic tendencies of country club Republicans who would sooner sink the ship than let someone else steer it. Blackwell’s biggest handicap is his lack of depth at running a party, though social conservatives have gravitated towards him.
Saltsman had his 1.5 minutes of fame when he sent out a tape of Rush Limbaugh parodies out to RNC members. While he was part of a campaign that had far exceeded its initial expectations and got more bang for the buck than any of the other Republican presidential candidates, Saltsman performed poorly as a the Huckabee camp’s talking head in the media, engaging in personal and hostile sniping with Romney operatives. Furthermore, it’s unlikely the committee will turn over the keys to someone so closely identified with a potential presidential candidate in 2012.
As for Anuzis, I don’t see how someone who is party chairman in a state that hasn’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since I was in high school could put the party back on the winning track.
And then there is Dawson of South Carolina. Though it seems it would require a great deal of effort to be an unsuccessful chairman in a red state such as South Carolina, I’ve seen plenty of mismanagement in reliably Republican states to know that winning does not just happen on its own. Though not having the same challenges as party leaders in blue or purple states, there is no questioning that the GOP has done well in South Carolina since Republican David Beasley got thrown out. Dawson might have a similar “presidential candidate” problem as Saltsman with South Carolina’s archconservative Governor Mark Sanford entertaining a White House run.
Any of Duncan’s challengers, even Steele with adult supervision, could improve upon the incumbent’s record.
Ideally, I’d like to see Blackwell as general chairman with Dawson handling the day-to-day operations. With Barack Obama as president and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid controlling both houses of Congress by comfortable margins, there’s more at stake than patronage and parking spaces.
Survival of capitalism, our civil rights, national exceptionalism and the high standard of living Americans enjoy and obviously have taken for granted.
We cannot and should not trust proven failed leadership to lead the fight to prevent the American republic’s devolution into a facsimile of western Europe.
The RNC must dump Duncan if we are to have a chance of winning when it matters most.

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