Building A Permanent Republican Majority I
By Martin A. Knight Posted in Archived | permanent republican majority | rnc chair | state gop chair — Comments (121) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »
The GOP Rank & File, Not Governors Or Presidents, Should Pick The Party's Leadership.
Rumors have long had it that Karl Rove harbored the ambition of becoming the 21st Century's Mark Hanna, at least before the disaster years that were 2005 and 2006. For those who don't know, Mark Hanna ran William McKinley's campaign for the Presidency before being elected (by the Ohio State Legislature - this was before the 17th Amendment) to the United States Senate. He also served as the 14th Chairman of the Republican National Committee. Hanna is credited with having created the modern American political campaign system (which he deployed against William Jennings Bryan to great effect) and having played a key part in making the GOP the majority party of the United States for most of the following three decades afterwards.
Anyway, while Rove's dreams of leaving a similarly "Permanent" Republican Majority behind him when he left Washington DC may have crashed and burned, the question of whether or not it is possible to create an actual Permanent (i.e. lasting decades) Republican Majority and how to set about if it is possible, is interesting even if just as an academic exercise.
Let's say you had the opportunity to do just that. How would you set about building the Republican Party as it is now in 2008 into the nation's majority party that not only would last for decades on the top spot, but also have the strength and direction to actually effect meaningful positive change? Remember; a Party is not a football team - it is not enough to just win elections, there is the governing to be done after the euphoria of victory on election night and the hands have come off the Holy books when the oaths are taken at last - winning (however that is done) gets our people into office, but it is the governing ultimately that keeps us there.
Read on ...
The first thing I'd do, if I had my way, is strip Republican Presidents of their power to appoint (technically they nominate and the Committeemen vote to accept or reject - but since they always do the former ...) the Chairman of the Republican National Committee. And I'd do the same down at the state level; Republican Governors would not have any say other than an endorsement of their preferred candidate for the party's top organizational role.
I'll be upfront now and say that one of the things that I am most apprehensive about with regard to John McCain being elected President is that he would make the mistake of picking an RMSP (i.e. Chafee-Whitman style) Republican "moderate" to head up the RNC. McCain might be (and indeed he actually is) substantially more conservative than the average member of the Republican "Main Street" Partnership, but in the past six years he's made it very clear that they represent the side of the Party's that he is the most comfortable associating with, and it is very likely he would want one of them to be the official face of the Republican Party while he is in the White House.
This would not be a problem if "moderate" Republicans in positions of leadership in the Party apparatus did not so regularly post up such woeful records while in those positions. I mean, it is entirely possible that an RMSP type as RNC Chairman (or woman) could be insightful enough not to take his bearings as to who or what is (or is not) "mainstream" or "too conservative" (I've never seen a politician described in the "mainstream" media as being "too liberal") from reading an liberal newspaper's editorial pages. He could use his experience as a somewhat unconventional Republican to pinpoint and recruit those Republican candidates that can compete in those bluish purple districts and over time turn them a deeper shade of red.
But, unfortunately, with the noted exception of Rep. Tom Davis (appropriately enough, he's the man in the middle presenting the RMSP's "prestigious" "[John] Chafee Award" to McCain in 2006) who did a rather credible job as NRCC Chairman from 1998 to 2002, putting a typical (non-Giuliani type) Bipartisan™ weak-sister Republican "moderate" in charge of a party's partisan electoral machines usually results in a dispirited and alienated base, unappealing (to either side) candidates and electoral catastrophes on Election Day.
Now, I know very well that conservatives in the same positions do not post up performances that are anywhere near perfect on that score (e.g. witness Liddy Dole's tenure as Chair of the NRSC), but one would not see a state Republican Party become so unmoored from any semblance of Republican/Conservative principle under a Conservative leader that it essentially transforms itself into a transitioning point for the state's next generation of Democratic politicians. Which is exactly what happened in Kansas under "moderate" Republican leadership. i.e. the former "moderate" Chairman of the Kansas state GOP until as recently as 2003 is currently the state's liberal Democratic Lieutenant Governor - and he (pictured right) was hardly the first or the last "moderate" Kansas "Republican" to happily make the leap to the other side.
But I digress. My position on this issue is really not a knock specific to John McCain or "moderates" (honest!) for that matter. I wasn't exactly happy about George W. Bush's tag team duo appointment of Mel Martinez and Mike (Sorry ... who?) Duncan in the aftermath of the "thumpin'" in 2006. The reason for my position on this is simple; the man (or woman) in charge of the party's electoral apparatus at any level should be primarily concerned with the growth, health and long-term strength of the Party rather than the transient short-term needs of the Party's current top elected official(s), even if he happens to be the President of the United States.
A typical Party Chairman owing his position to a Governor or President all-too-often just orients the entirety of the party's apparatus towards his benefactor's agenda and preferences, even when it is clear his benefactor is leading his Party off a cliff. I think it bears repeating that the two parties (yes, the Democratic Party included) really are bigger than any one man or woman, even the President (who is distinct from the institution that is the Presidency). Ultimately, we need to remember that terms end, re-election bids are sometimes lost and the current occupant of an office would one day leave and afterwards die ... and his Party would have to carry on without him/her.
I have come across more than just this one article laying the current shambles that is the AR Republican Party at the feet of Mike Huckabee and the people he chose to run the party machinery in Arkansas; (caveat: this was written during the heat of the Primary campaign) ...
Huckabee insisted on having "his people" controlling the Republican Party campaign organizations that are set up in Arkansas each election cycle. He also insisted that his guy remain as state party chairman when party leaders planned to make a change. The mismanagement and ineptness that followed was so great that the Republican Party plunged into debt and the Federal Election Commission levied the the largest fine ever against a state political party following an investigation of the 2000 and 2002 election cycles ... this [has] set back the Republican Party of Arkansas for years.
Similar stories abound about George Ryan (IL), Bob Taft (OH), George Pataki (NY) and to a lesser extent, Christine Whitman (NJ), et al. essentially turning their States' Republican Parties into extensions of their Administrations and leaving them enervated and rudderless shadows of themselves when they left (or, in the case of Ryan, kicked out of) office. I need not say that I think this happens far too often, and, in my opinion, it calls for a major reworking on the way we select our leadership. It is better that the folks holding the levers of the Party apparatus act as conduits between the base and our elected officials (who won't go anywhere without base's support) and provide a balance between the needs of the Party so it remains strong and viable as a proper choice for the voter against the Democrats, and the different needs of the men and women we elect into public office.
My point is this; while I'm not entirely unsympathetic to the argument that there are benefits to having the Party's organizational leadership regularly on the same page as the titular leaders of the Party in the White House and the Governor's mansions, to me, the potential downside from having two heads of one mind going in the wrong direction and carrying the party along with them into disaster's maw far outweigh the rather remote potential downside of the occasional intra-party struggle when the two heads disagree.
Sometimes it is absolutely necessary to cut a mistake (e.g. George Ryan) loose or to forcefully correct one - think Nicholas Sarkozy and his shedding the UMP of the anchor and albatross about their necks that was Jacques Chirac in France. In a similar fashion, I think having the Leadership of the Republican Party at all levels directly elected (using some combination of direct mail and the Internet means the logistics are not exactly financially insurmountable) by the rank and file would act as a bulwark against an incompetent Bob Taft, corrupt George Ryan or a suicidally non-combative George Bush taking the party down with them by giving the Party's organizational leadership that additional measure of independence to think beyond the short-term interests and preferences of their patrons.
Imagine if an independently elected (and needless to say, smart) GOP Chairman had read the tea leaves (as a lot of the non-experts here on RS did way back in 2005) and respectfully told the President then that it was time to lay off the "New Tone™" shtick in the interests of maintaining our hard-won Majority status? Note that the "New Tone™" is not just where the Administration's passivity in the face of torrents of bad faith political attacks and falsehoods from the Left comes from, it's also where the six year lack of vetoes has its place of origin. Now, chances are that Bush would have "stayed the course" no matter what, and there's certainly no chance that his thoroughly incompetent communications team would have woken up to notice an approval rating that was in the mid-50s after re-election now threatening to go down to the teens.
But let's say I was in Mehlman's position, as an independently elected (even if not quite as smart as Mr. Mehlman) RNC Chairman in September/October of 2005, looking forward into 2006. I've called on the President, gone on my knees and begged him to remove the "Kick Me" sign off his back. I've rudely interrupted Dan Bartlett and the rest of the White House Communications Staff mid-morning, afternoon and evening naps countless times and sent professionals to teach Scott McClellan how to not respond to hostile questions from journalists with confused blinking. I've tried everything; memos in pop-up format, kiss-o-grams, and interpretative dancers to get the Bush Administration to make the case for itself to the American people, even if just for the President's sake.
But nothing seems to be getting through - Dan Bartlett and crew have found somewhere where I can't reach them to catch up on their beauty sleep. What would I do next? Well, given that I have less loyalty to Bush than to seeing him remain a popular (and thus effective) President till his last day in office when he hands over the office to another Republican as a Republican Senate Majority Leader and a Republican Speaker of the House look on, I would make sure he knows that the "New Tone™" does not extend beyond the gates of the White House.
If the Bush Administration won't do it, then the rest of the GOP would have to gird up and swing the sword on its behalf, for our own sakes.
Everything, from sponsoring adverts and documentaries reintroducing the American people to what was known to be unquestionably true by both sides before March of 2003 about the connections between Saddam, terrorism, and terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda (as per the Clinton Administration) - exhaustively citing Democrats (Bill Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Jay Rockefeller, etc.) and media (national and International) pieces and articles fretting about Saddam's WMDs before the invasion and throughout the 1990s - to letting loose with both barrels on Joe Wilson, Richard Clarke, and the %@#&+! New York Times, would be on the table.
I'll ensure that the "New Tone™" is dead and buried under thirty feet of concrete at the bottom of the ocean because the RNC would not engage in any punch-pulling, the moans and wails of "moderates" self-righteously rending their garments over the "bickering" notwithstanding.
From the New York Times' irresponsible exposure of the Terrorist Surveillance Program, their subsequent exposure of the unquestionably legal SWIFT program, the entire media industry's ultimately false reporting on Hurricane Katrina, the consistently negative (and often dishonest) coverage of the war, the non-coverage (or worse; negative coverage) of a good economy, the Democrats' filibusters on Court nominees, etc, I'll regularly put the White House in a position where it either has to confirm the heavy artillery fire the RNC's communications shop is putting out, or deny it and concede to the Left that they did indeed lie about Iraq, extra-legally surveil innocent Americans, routinely order soldiers to smash hammers on detainee toes and that America is indeed in a two year recession. Even an incompetent like Dan Bartlett should be able to figure out (I hope!) which way to go in that situation.
Many other issues abound. From poor communications and marketing to unchallenged media bias, from a near total lack of presence in urban areas to inexplicable failures in recruitment, from weakness at the state level to the still rather pedestrian attempts at establishing support in certain minority communities, building a Permanent Republican Majority would very likely require a significant amount of stepping on toes (including quite a few Republican ones) on the part of the men and women in charge of the party apparatus, and this in turn would require a more significant measure of independence and foresightedness beyond the short-term, than that attendant to an appointee.