The losses that the Republican Party suffered in 2006 and 2008 were devastating. They left many Republicans thinking about what went wrong and commentators proclaiming that the “era of conservatism” was over. The 2008 Republican Primary election saw the party divided among the Paulites, Huckabeens and McCainanites. Underneath all of this was, and is, the sense that the party has become beholden to the religious right.
After McCain and Obama were nominated, the election played out with McCain trying to appeal to the base, particularly to the Evangelicals who got President Bush elected, while Obama had a simple, yet powerful message of “hope” and “change.” The resulting campaign run by McCain had little to no consistent message (unless you count “Maverick” as a message) and left voters wondering what exactly McCain was going to do. The end of the campaign was the only time when there was a consistent message from the campaign, and that was an accidental one created from the video clip of Joe the Plumber and Obama. The resulting message from the McCain campaign was that an Obama victory would lead to wealth redistribution, which turned out to be too little too late, and Obama rolled to victory.
The Republicans were left high and dry, with a minority in the House and Senate, nearly facing a super-majority in the Senate and an Obama White House. This is the situation faced by the Republican Party between now and the midterm election, when 33 Senate seats and 36 gubernatorial positions will be up for grabs. The situation looks grim, and the Republican National Committee has the task of trying to find the man to chair it over the next two years.
The field has been narrowed down to six candidates: Michael Shelby Steele, the current chairman of GOPAC; Katon Dawson, current chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party; Ken Blackwell, former secretary of state for Ohio; Saul Anuzis, chairman of the Michigan Republican Party; Chip Saltzman, chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party and Mike Duncan, the current chairman of the Republican National Committee.
The candidates had a debate shown on C-Span on Jan. 5 that was sponsored by Americans for Tax Reform. After watching it, I believe that three of the candidates have little or no vision for the party. Duncan cannot be elected for a second term, as he was basically appointed at the behest of President Bush, and the Republicans should be distancing themselves from the former president. Moreover, he’s a neo-con and the Republican Party has been run by neo-cons for long enough. Saltzman was Huckabee’s campaign manager; enough said. Dawson had no real plan or vision, which is what the party needs right now.
Any of the three remaining candidates would make an excellent chairman. Steele has a vision for the party, and he would bring a lot of passion and energy. Further, although he is conservative, he is much more open to broadening the base of the party and is willing to promote and run pro-choice candidates. Blackwell, a conservative before a Republican, is critical of big government, especially of the bailout. He has received a number of important endorsements that are needed in order to win the chairmanship. Anuzis has been extremely successful in his role as chairman of the Michigan Republican Party. His family immigrated here, and he didn’t speak English until age seven. His selection may be able to combat the image of the Republican Party as being anti-immigrant.
Regardless of who is selected as chairman, Republicans have to create a message that appeals to the American public. For the last eight years, the focus has been on social issues, but the problem with this approach is that little can actually be done on these issues; they are either handled within the state or within the judiciary—they are issues across the nation, but not national issues. The policies that Republicans have to focus on are free market solutions to the fiscal problems of the day and other conservative solutions to modern day problems.
One example is McCain’s health care policy. It was actually a good policy; the problem was that he did not articulate it well, and the average person neither knew nor understood the benefits. The reason may very well have been that he and his team did not understand the benefits. It is an indictment on his campaign that he could not articulate those benefits.
In order to win any elections in the near future, the Republicans need the passion, vision and leadership of someone at the head of the Republican National Committee. This person then needs to create a message centered on policies that can be achieved and to which the American people can relate. These ingredients must exist for any recipe of success.