A number of thoughts about the RNC Chairmanship race. First, many congratulations to Michael Steele. He is a good man, a great communicator, and a breath of fresh air in attitude and outlook. The downside risks with Steele are that he was probably the least conservative of the six announced candidates, AND the one with the thinnest record of nuts-and-bolts organizing, fundraising and electoral success. Those are significant concerns — but I think he is sincerely more conservative than not, that he has a fairly good ear for political tone, that he will be a good representative for the party, and that he has all the potential in the world to put to rest doubts about his organizational bona fides. The tests will be if he spends more money on the grassroots than on consultants, if he takes an aggressive posture on candidate recruitment rather than leaving it to the NRCC and RSC, and if he serves an an honest broker ideologically while doing everything in his power to nurture the conservative grass roots. My hopes for him are much higher than my doubts.
Second, a note on Katon Dawson: I think he was by far the class of the field in terms of nuts-and-bolts stuff, and clearly an incredible talent in terms of party-building. I think his membership in an all-whites country club was what kept him from winning — which is in one sense a crying shame, because I think the rest of his record shows him to be anything but a racist. I think the whole question about country club membership is a bogus one — but, politics being a very real-world undertaking, the simple fact is that the media would NEVER have let him live it down, especially if he had won in the final ballot in a head-to-head race with a black man. The media also would have pushed the meme that Dawson is just another Lee Atwater-like dirty trickster, merely because Dawson came up through the South Carolina party while Atwater was still around. Again, that would not have been a fair assessment, but it would have been used repeatedly anyway. All of which would have made his election problematic. But I hope there are no hard feelings between him and Steele, and I hope Steele calls on him and engages him fully in his organizational and fundraising efforts. Dawson is quite a talent.
Third, a note on Ken Blackwell. I think it was obvious that I had come to favor him. I think his exit was incredibly classy, which is befitting a very classy man and a great public servant. I have admired Blackwell for a long time, and I hope and pray that his life in public office is not over. I want to see him in a leadership position, and I look for great things from him. I repeat, however, my utter disgust with the RNC for giving Blackwell so few votes. I consider it a deliberate affront to the conservative movement, considering how many movement leaders (or leaders of movement organizations) endorsed him. What the RNC said is that the conservative movement means nothing to it. The “establishment” still doesn’t understand that the movement is the only source of strength the party has — and I am furious at the establishment’s attitude. It has been thus ever since the elder Bush took the reins of the party in 1988, and it stinks.
Fourth, a note on Saul Anuzis. What an engaging personality and energetic go-getter! May he Twitter his way to success in the future.
Fifth, as for Mike Duncan. He merits thanks for good, solid service and excellent fund-raising. We’ll never know how well he would have done on his own as chairman (apart from the W. Bush White House), because it would have been suicide for the party to give him that chance. Through no fault of his own, but for plenty of good reasons, the grassroots would have been angry beyond belief if the RNC didn’t change its leadership after the House and Senate also stayed the same at the top. The disgust for the GOP establishment among the grassroots is deep and palpable, and Duncan was a symbol of the establishment. All reports are that he is a truly fine gentleman, though, and he has provided valuable services.
Sixth, as to Chip Saltsman: I never gave him a chance. I figured that if you lie down with dogs, you get flees — and he ran the campaign of Mike Huckabee, the unethical economic- and foreign-policy liberal. Such a shame. Saltsman probably was right to argue that the sins of the candidate should not be held against the campaign manager — but those political sins made Saltsman un-viable from the start. But I’ve gotta admit: On the one conference call with him that I listened in on, he sounded like a good guy.
So where does the RNC go from here? One can only hope that it becomes a lean and effective engine for forward-looking conservative leadership melded with effective politics. If Steele hires good people and serves with energy, and refuses to be satisfied with just making some good TV appearances, the future can be bright. But it will be a hard, hard road.