Tuesday, January 6, 2009

RNC chair debate

Republicans need to have a "shareholder revolt," Ken Blackwell told a standing-room-only crowd Monday at the National Press Club, where the former Ohio secretary of state was one of six candidates engaged in a debate for the Republican National Committee chairmanship.

Blackwell, who has been endorsed by several major conservative leaders, is widely considered a favorite for the RNC post. He is challenging challenging incumbent chairman Mike Duncan, as are Michigan GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis, South Carolina GOP Chairman Caton Dawson, Tennessee GOP activist Chip Saltsman and former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele.

The debate was liveblogged by "Buddha Riggs," a guestblogger at LOTUS. Also liveblogging was David Weigel (Part I, Part II, Part III). More than 500 people turned out for the debate, which was emceed by Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform.

Some highlights of the debate:

  • In his introduction, Norquist got a laugh when he noted that Obama's handpicked choice for DNC chairman was "Tim Kaine, the tax-raising governor of Virginia." Norquist noted that this debate was the first of its kind, so "everybody here is part of a historic first."
  • After Dawson had talked about his party work in South Carolina, Blackwell got a laugh when he said, "We know how hard it is to win elections in that swing state of South Carolina."
  • Norquist asked the candidates who their favorite president was and everyone said Ronald Reagan. "You all got that one right," Norquist said drily.
  • Blackwell compared Bush's bailout policies to Herbert Hoover, suggesting the bailouts would "pave the way" for even bigger boondoggles by Obama.
  • Asked to name the biggest Republican mistake of recent years, Duncan said the Iraq war.
Who won the debate? Some conservatives I talked to afterwards said they thought Saltsman -- who managed Mike Huckabee's presidential campaign -- "exceeded expectations" with a very smooth, concise message. Another told me he thinks Duncan will surprise everyone by retaining the chairmanship. And another said he thinks the current situation favors Anuzis, whom he described as "everyone's second choice." I scored a brief post-debate interview with Anuzis:

I also caught Michael Steele talking to a TV crew:

And here is Patrick Ruffini talking about the debate, during which he and Rebuild the Party colleague Mindy Finn got to ask questions.

Everyone agreed the debate, carried live on C-SPAN, was a splendid idea. "I think this is great . . . to let the grassroots see what's going on," said Texas RNC member Tina Benkiser, who has endorsed Blackwell, along with such heavy hitters on the Right as David Keene, Al Regnery, Ed Meese, Richard Viguerie, James Dobson, Phyllis Schlafly, Tony Perkins, and Brent Bozell.

Eight TV cameras and scores of reporters and bloggers were on hand for the debate. Among those I saw were John Tabin, Philip Klein and J.P. Freire of the American Spectator, Amanda Carpenter of Townhall.com, Ben Smith of the Politico, Jon Henke of the Next Right, David Weigel of the Economist, John Gizzi of Human Events, Penny Starr of CNS, Tom LoBianco and Ralph Z. Hallow of the Washington Times, and Mary Katharine Ham of the Weekly Standard.

Pictured (L-R): Phil Klein, MK Ham, John Tabin.

Ralph Z. Hallow with Texas RNC member Tina Benkiser.

Among the more piquant (and accurate) characterizations of the current state of the GOP:

"Some people are pissed off at [Americans for Tax Reform President] Grover [Norquist]. Some people are pissed off at the Conservative Steering Committee. Some people are pissed off at [current RNC chair] Mike Duncan. Some people are pissed off at social conservatives. The social conservatives are pissed at leaders in Congress," said a Republican consultant who has worked with the RNC. "Everyone is basically pissed."

Hey: Don't blame me -- I voted for Bob Barr!

Michelle Malkin is certainly "pissed off at Grover" :

Will the next RNC chairman remain silent about Norquist's security-undermining strategic alliances? Will the next RNC chairman openly reject the same race-card-playing strategies that have corrupted a money-grubbing party establishment? Or will the field of candidates kiss the ring and hold their tongues?

Allah has a roundup, and Little Miss Attila wonders, "Why are we doing this?" The Washington Times reports:

Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, an accomplished speaker, and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, not well known for dazzling performances, each repeatedly drew sustained applause and appreciative laughter during Monday´s debate among the six candidates for the Republican National Committee chairman post. . . .
The debate produced more entertainment value than any national party chairman contest in recent memory.
Candidate Robert M. "Mike" Duncan, the incumbent national chairman, shocked the audience when he said "the Iraq war and its prosecution" was the worst mistake of the Bush administration in an answer to moderator Grover Norquist's inquiry.
Dana Milbank in the Washington Post:
The half a dozen men vying to be Republican National Committee chairman assembled at the National Press Club for a debate yesterday, but it quickly turned into a duel over who could best disparage their president and their party. Even the incumbent chairman, Mike Duncan, who is running for another term, warned that "if we don't do something about it, we're going to be the permanent minority in this country."
Luckily, all six RNC candidates agreed on a solution to the party's woes: They would say Ronald Reagan's name over and over, as if it were a tantric incantation.

Notice how Milbank puts a pejorative spin on Republicans criticizing Bush; now imagine what Milbank would write if any of them had praised Bush. Well, that's the kind of snark to be expected, I suppose. Liberals haven't had a president they could be proud of since JFK. Jimmy Carter sucked beyond words, and Bill Clinton is not exactly a name to conjure with. So the fact that nearly all Republicans today consider Reagan a lodestar is something that liberals routinely ridicule -- even as the self-same liberals prostrate themselves in idolatry of Obama.

UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers. And thanks to Joan of Argghh for this comment:

You could put every member of the RNC leadership in a big, canvas sack, close it up, hit it with a stick, and be completely certain you'd hit the right person.

Perhaps the GOP should try this method. Not that it would necessarily produce a better chairman, but surely we can all agree that politicians getting hit with a stick is a good idea.

PREVIOUSLY: Just got back from the debate for Republican National Committee chairman, sponsored by Americans for Tax Reform. I've got photos, videos, and lots of notes -- but hey, conservatives don't do reporting, right? Will begin uploading, etc., in a few minutes. Stand by for updates.


  1. I am lifelong republican, but what I would like to know is....just who the fu-- actually chooses the RNC chair? The idiots who ran the party into the ground over the past 8 years? Just who decides? It's certainly not the rank and file.

    Richard Vail
    Pikesville, MD

  2. You could put every member of the RNC leadership in a big, canvas sack, close it up, hit it with a stick, and be completely certain you'd hit the right person.

    I swear, you'd think that we just won't seem progressive enough until we get a minority person in charge, just to show ...what, exactly? That we're terrified by 12% of the population? Or an old white guy with perfect teeth and hair and nothing new between the ears?

    I haven't read or heard a single thing they've said that makes me believe they understand the long vision and hard work ahead for Conservatism. I said it the day after the election, and now even Mark Steyn is saying it: we've lost the cultural connection from kindergarten to Hollywood.


  3. Bah. Suicides debating the method.

    "Just like Democrats, only cheaper!" is not a winning slogan.


  4. Thanks, McCain!

    I just wish the Republican Party would quit looking for a savior or gallant knight and would just get busy about the work of rebuilding from the ground up.