What up, GOP?
I’ve never been to Grover Norquist’s Wednesday meeting. It is, for many, a mainstay of the middle of the week and, for others, a launching pad into a fruitful career in Republican politics. But, for all who know about it, there’s no question that it is regarded as the de-facto braintrust of the center-right coalition that makes up the Republican Party. Thus, when I woke up Wednesday morning after Tuesday’s two-count of Democratic retirements, I couldn’t but imagine that the coffee at ATR tasted a little better than it did yesterday.
But, on a day that should be regarded as a pretty good one for Republicans, it’s very likely that this group was a little distracted by, to borrow a little from the French, our faux pas du jour—our great Chairman’s tactful use of the phrase “honest injun” in describing a platform that nobody knows about. Or, perhaps, to digress a little further, the news that, under his leadership, the money to run the races that just became within our reach just may not exist (at least not under the RNC’s control)?
This is not an ad-hominem attack on Michael Steele—God knows the left has a monopoly on those. But, at some point, shouldn’t somebody step back and objectively evaluate, today almost one year after he was elected, how he’s performed in our party’s top job? Tragically, at this important moment in the history of our party and our nation, it’s very possible that, with seemingly endless embarrassments coming out of a cash-hemorrhaging RNC, Michael Steele has become a distraction worth dumping.
Notwithstanding the “honest injun” incident, the main political stories this year involving the RNC have centered on intra-party conflict and poor decisions by Mr. Steele. Most recently, The Washington Times reported on the disturbing trend of major donors fleeing the RNC as Steele makes paid appearances and prepares for his book tour on his six figure salary. Think about this for a second—in his capacity at the RNC, which pays him to give speeches and raise money, Chairman Steele has routinely collected speaking fees to stuff his personal bank account rather than fund our candidates. In many ways, this is tantamount to the CEO of a public company charging money to speak to his shareholders. Here’s a wake-up call, Mr. Chairman--- the shareholders have noticed, and they’re no longer buying.
The RNC has started the year off in the worst financial position in over ten years. Spending record amounts to win a race in Virginia by a whopping eighteen points, we now find ourselves wondering how to fully fund this year’s races (although, to be fair, Chairman Steele isn't sure that we can win them). In the real world, a company losing its stockholders after spending wads of cash would experience declining share values. In Washington, where we all know there is no accountability, inertia dictates business as usual. Except, of course, for Trevor Francis, the former RNC communications director who was fired for failing to get Steele enough credit for said victories—sorry, Trevor.
It's hard to believe that, just one year ago, we were arguing over Chairman Steele's conservative credentials. Now, it's astonishing that we ever believed he had any credentials at all. If, in the 2008 elections, Barack Obama was the most idyllic image in his party’s history, Michael Steele may have become our party’s greatest liability. Republicans, at the very least, were relieved that, at the end of the Bush years, we would no longer have to hold our breath every time our party’s leader opened his mouth. Alas, that was life before “honest injun,” “hip-hop Republicans,” and, of course, “what up.” If we can’t trust Michael Steele to represent Republicans well, much less effectively manage our party, than why do we keep him around? I was at last year’s winter meeting, and the largest single justification for electing him was his communication ability. How do his passionate advocates of yesteryear feel today? Satisfied? I’m imagining some of you will read this, so please comment below.
Of course, there is life after the RNC. The RGA under Nick Ayers’ great management demonstrated this past November that we’re nowhere close to the depression that we felt in 2008. Donors that once donated in masse to the RNC have redirected their money to the campaign committees. And, in large part because of Democratic policies, personal fundraising by candidates is looking strong. But, is that the point? Should there be an adversarial relationship between the various parts of our larger party? Or, should they move in unison as a well-oiled machine, with a common message and a common goal? Just ask the Democrats of 2008.
Many comparisons have been made of 1994 and this upcoming cycle and—believe me—I hope to God they’re all true. But, there’s a part of me that wonders, when I think back to the spectacular year of the Republican Revolution—what would Grover’s Wednesday meeting have looked like then? Led by folks like Haley Barbour and, of course, Newt Gingrich, I want to imagine that the party of then was far more united than the party of now, if there were disagreements along the way. But, that’s not now. And, it certainly isn’t an environment that’s encouraged by Michael Steele’s leadership. So, what now, GOP? Happy New Year, it’s 2010--- What up?
Note: Michael Steele's response to recent criticism (which has surely not come just from me): ""I'm looking them in the eye and say, 'I've had enough of it. If you don't want me in the job, fire me. But until then, shut up. Get with the program or get out of the way.'"