Duncan, you’ll recall, was practically the invisible man during his tenure as RNC Chairman. He wasn’t on TV much because that wasn’t his strength; unlike a lot of party chairs, he wasn’t a politician but a veteran behind-the-scenes operator (he started as a precinct captain and worked his way up the ranks of the party over several decades). His strength, rather, was actually running the RNC. He took over in January 2007, a couple months after his party suffered a crushing electoral defeat in the 2006 midterms, and served through the end of 2008, another very tough cycle for the GOP. Despite the handicaps of an unpopular Republican president and a nominee who didn’t exactly set the base’s heart on fire, the RNC broke fundraising records under his watch.
In the wake of Obama’s victory, Duncan made an easy scapegoat for the party’s problems. The impulse to clean the slate and elect a new leader after an electoral disaster was perhaps understandable, and Duncan probably didn’t help matters by seeming amusingly out of touch with the Web 2.0 fads that the RNC Chair candidates running against him were falling over themselves to embrace.
But now the RNC has a Chairman who is on TV all the time — and is constantly saying things that undercut the party. (When Howard Dean was DNC Chairman, the Democrats at least managed to convince their loose cannon leader to keep a low profile.) Fundraising is anemic, despite a much more favorable fundraising environment. (Sure, the economy is in bad shape, but I’ve still heard my think tank friends talking about how well they do when they hammer at Obama in fundraising letters; that the RNC can’t capitalize on this is just embarrassing.) I’m guessing that just about everyone in the Republican leadership misses Mike Duncan, except perhaps for Michael Steele himself.