A New Republican Revolution

The GOP picks a new national chair. It needs a new beginning.


The Republican National Committee will be choosing its new chair at the end of January.

There is horse race coverage a-plenty for those amused by such things. In the past month, some knowledgeable pundit has stated, or quoted some insider as stating, that pretty much every one of the six public contenders is a front-runner, likely winner, or likely first-round winner who will then be supplanted by a victory by a different candidate to be named later—a process National Review's Mark Hemingway colorfully calls "a complete goat rodeo, that involves up to seven votes…They keep voting until one candidate reaches 50 percent, and there's an amazing amount of horsetrading and surprises usually involved before a winner is decided."

Interesting pluses and minuses hover over all the contenders, though I'd hesitate to call them a particularly colorful bunch overall. Only a couple—Ohio's former Secretary of State Ken Blackwell and Maryland's former Lt. Gov. Michael Steele—are anywhere close to being nationally recognizable figures (the latter through TV pundit appearances, the former through being blamed for stealing the Ohio election for George W. Bush in 2004), and that includes incumbent Mike Duncan of Kentucky. Both Steele and Blackwell have the added benefit, in this context, of being black, which is of some interest for a struggling party that got only around 5 percent of the black vote last year. That was true at the presidential level, somewhat predictably, but was true in House races as well.

Most of the contenders also have some bit of shame hanging around them—though none stands out against the recent shame of the party as a whole. For some examples, consider former Tennessee GOP chair Chip Saltsman, who got more than the laughs he was bargaining for when he sent out a comedy CD to RNC members containing the parody song "Barack the Magic Negro." In a similar racial sensitivity vein, South Carolina GOP chief Katon Dawson was a member of a no-blacks-allowed country club. More substantively, Blackwell has a record of huge spending increases and embarrassing electoral results in his years as Ohio's secretary of state and as a 2006 gubernatorial candidate; and Michigan GOP chair Saul Anuzis oversaw crushing defeates in the 2008 senate, gubernatorial, and presidential races (Obama had a 16-point lead there), as well as the loss of two incumbent seats in the federal House.

As befits the Internet age, more publicly accessible chatter surrounds this RNC chair race and its meaning for the party's future than for any previous one. The very first pre-election public debate of RNC candidates (not just for this election, but for any of them) was held last week, hosted by Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform.

One good sign indicated by the debate: these men seem to know that George W. Bush is the problem. The minus: They don't seem fully aware that George Bushism is Republicanism right now, and until their party can go beyond just thinking that he flubbed a thing or two—Katrina response, say, or stressing, as incumbent Duncan did, the prosecution of the Iraq war rather than the very idea of it as a major Bush mistake—the Republicans will remain an ineffective counterforce to the enormous and crippling expansions of state power and reach that Obama and the Democratic Congress are planning. Republicans are a minority party now, sure, and commensurately somewhat powerless; but absent a more sincere and thorough repudiation of endless spending and war, they will not even be as effective as a minority party could theoretically be.

In the House, for example, 91 Republicans voted for the early October Wall Street bailout. Last month, 32 of them voted for the auto bailout. And it's almost certain that sheer partisanship and the need for political product differentiation right now make them better opponents of government expansion than they would be if they were to run the show again. At the very least, all the would-be RNC chiefs—except incumbent Duncan—agree that being against the bailout is a must. Openly repudiating aggressive foreign policy for purposes other than actual national defense, however, still remains largely anathema within the GOP.

Most of the RNC chief candidates' apologies for the GOP's past and intentions for its future are more about process, procedure, and communication than they are about core values. They are willing to admit they fumbled badly, for example, when it comes to harnessing the Internet for communications and fundraising. But the idea that the core element of how Bush governed (and how McCain ran) might be fatally flawed remains too unpleasant to contemplate. Michigan's Anuzis pointed out that, "The Obama administration has promised tremendous increasing in spending, which they're either going to pay for with higher taxes or higher deficits. That's going to create tremendous opportunities for us as a party and as a movement." Sure, but Obama has so far only promised such improvidence—a Republican president (and for much of his term, a Republican legislature) has delivered.

The one presidential candidate from last year whose supporters tried to make the party seriously rethink its ways was libertarian-leaning Texas Rep. Ron Paul. During the public question period during the debate, the RNC candidates were forced to talk about something that the standard GOP would rather not deal with in polite company: What of those strangely enthusiastic, yet terribly misguided, fans of renegade Ron Paul?

They all tried to kiss ass, though lamely. Even Anuzis—whose most famous actual interaction with the Paul campaign was striving to get the candidate barred from Republican debates for apostasy on foreign policy—pretended he could make nice and talked of how, by goodness, he's actually met with some of these Ron Paul folk. The overall message from the would-be RNC bosses regarding the Ron Paulites: These excited, dedicated newcomers need to be welcomed into the GOP. But God forbid the Republican Party or its candidates should actually stand for the things Ron Paul stands for, the specifics of which were all assiduously avoided during the debate, while assurances of a Big Tent desire to tolerate and make use of these people were tossed about. Meanwhile, the issues on which Republican practice diverges from what Paul and his suporters advocate—pretty much everything, in other words—were not addressed.

Focusing on the top of the party—either the RNC apparatus or 2012's presidential ticket—obscures the real wellsprings of whatever future the GOP will have, fair or foul. The RNC candidates talk a lot about building up from the grassroots—South Carolina's Dawson hypes a "Project 3141" to build up viable party apparati in every county, and that's where Ron Paulites who still have faith that electoral politics can rein in government need to get their hands dirty. If openness to change exists anywhere in the GOP—and this remains to be seen—it's at the precinct and county level, where merely being enthusiastic and willing to show up pays off. Getting deeply involved at the level of candidate selection—and candidate creation—is going to be key if the Paul movement hopes to save the GOP's (sinking) ship. As Stalin didn't quite say, "He who counts the vote decides nothing. He who decides who people get to vote for decides everything."

Any change in the GOP that could save it—or at least help save America—won't spring full-grown from the head of a RNC candidate. Those individuals have to win the votes of the hidebound party hacks that comprise the RNC itself. As one RNC watcher told National Review's Jim Geraghty, in the context of the contest over which candidate had mastered the use of Twitter better: If it doesn't have a stamp on it, "the RNC members don't see it." RNC chairs, to put it another way, are a lagging indicator, not a leading one; it's the slow change in the people who run the party on the state level, and who go on to be on the RNC, that can matter.

Last week, an important figure in modern intellectual conservative history, of the sort that would-be RNC chiefs and members would probably little note nor long remember, died: Father Richard John Neuhaus.

My favorite Neuhaus moment involved a now mostly forgotten intra-right wing controversy that is worth remembering: In 1996 he ran a symposium in his magazine First Things which seriously raised the question (in the context, mostly, of judicial decisions about abortion) of whether the U.S. government had so exceeded both its legitimate mandate and any meaningful democratic controls that conscientious citizens should no longer owe it their allegiance. Not so much in memory of Neuhaus, but in respect for its own soul, the GOP needs to ask itself whether a government that so exceeds its constitutional mandates is one the American people have any reason to respect—and to realize the extent to which it is complicit in the out-of-control, improvident, destructive beast the U.S. government is.

Is serious contemplation, and action, on this basic question going to be the best thing for the electoral prospects of the Republican Party in the short term? Probably not. Is it the best thing for the future of this grand experiment in ordered liberty? Yes, it is. Guess which consideration will be preeminent in the decision-making of Republican Party leaders between now and 2012?

Senior Editor Brian Doherty is author of Radicals for Capitalism (PublicAffairs) and Gun Control on Trial (Cato Institute).

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  1. Do what the man in the picture says. Or he’ll bite your ear off.

  2. I’m still calling my Brother-in-Law once a week to remind him of his statement, made mid-September, that Sarah Palin was a great choice for VP.

    He realizes his errors, but the GOp as a whole, not so much…

  3. How about the GOP’s free-market fundamentalist ideology? How about the Christian right intollerance? How about the boring old fucks the party always comes up with as candidates? How about Sarah Palin? Militalrism and reckless spending are small potatoes!

  4. The whole american war machine needs to be stopped not just the Republican one. You will see. Obama will end the american war machine.

  5. I’m sure we’ll soon hear GOP candidates babbling on about how they’ve changed and are really, truly, 100% focussed on reducing the cost and size of government, but frankly, I ain’t going to care. Fool me once, etc, etc.

  6. “Who wants to be King of the Idiots?”

    What a great reality show. A Grand Melee, with maces, broadswords, and bears.

  7. Ah, Taktix, the SEXISM and PANIC really come through in your comment.

    You must have caught FLAT-FOOTED.

  8. P Brooks,

    And wenches. Don’t forget about the wenches.

  9. The GOP harbors viulent racists like Ron Paul. Shame!

  10. Brooks and Shadow are you proud of debasing women? Does that make you feel more masculine?

  11. Palin/Joe the Plumber 2012!

  12. Uh…I’m gonna go ahead and agree with you on that.

  13. Palin is not a true woman. We need Angela Davis in government.

  14. The democrats harbor virulent racists like robert byrd and sheila jackson. Shame on them too!

  15. Joe, good call being for Angela Davis.

    Uh…I’m gonna go ahead and agree with you on that

  16. Didn’t you hear, joe?

    JtP is the next Stephen Crane!.

    They laughed at Roanld Reagan tooo!!

    Palin/JtP LANDSLIDE!

  17. Bobby Jindal is dark and has a funny name, I nominate him.

  18. “Bobby Jindal is dark and has a funny name, I nominate him.”

    I want to see his birth certificate first.

  19. At least with Michael Steele, you could recycle episode titles from “Remington Steele”.

  20. The LurkerBold spoofer is not me.

  21. OK, who did that?

  22. What makes you think you can possibly out-troll somebody who post a photo of Mike Tyson holding a political sign?

  23. Like it or not, militarism does kinda define the GOP, and has for quite some time. Profligate spending, Nixon and the Bushes aside, not so much.

    I’d take a return to fiscal hawkdom and a repudiation of the Panopticon-style surveillance state as a good start, although I think those have simply become platitudes rather than, you know, things anybody in elected office actually stands for.

  24. At first glance, I thought the picture was a mug-shot!

  25. madmikefisk, one good thing about the old Democrats is that they never fell for the endless war methodology of the Republicans.

    Now that they have made the turn for Progressivism only good things can come from them.

  26. “They’re unwilling to repudiate the reckless spending and militarism that currently define the GOP”

    Why should they? Americans love them. Provided that a) they don’t lose wars and b) the reckless spending doesn’t cause economic hell to break loose

  27. “Now that they have made the turn for Progressivism only good things can come from them.”

    You must mean the Progressives against progress!

    (which is coincidentally a great youtube video)

  28. Democrats love endless war… just so long as it gives them plenty of photo-ops with less-than-desirable, charmingly poor ethnic people and allows them to spend perpetually without any real purpose.

    One party seeks to kill and pursue victory in the killing, the other seeks to “care” so long as it’s not their money doing so, and they don’t care whether they win or not.

  29. I’m getting sworn in as central committee in the county GOP this week. Many constitutionalists, libertarians and Ron Paul Republicans are as well. Trying to change the GOP from the inside may be the epitome of naivete, but sitting at home posting to H&R will only guarantee nothing will change.

    It would be nice if the Libertarian Party could change things, but they can’t the only hope, as faint as it is, is to work within the two major parties. Join the Republican Liberty Caucus.

  30. Sarah Palin is the future of the Republican Party. Which is to say it has no future.

  31. “””They’re unwilling to repudiate the reckless spending and militarism that currently define the GOP.”””

    But they are willing to repudiate the reckless spending and militarism that will define the Obama adim.

  32. These excited, dedicated newcomers need to be welcomed into the GOP.

    Yeah, NOW they think of that, after getting their hats handed to them in November. I seem to recall Ron Paul supporters getting the cold shoulder pretty much everywhere — in Nevada, in Louisiana, and especially at the national convention in Minnesota.

    Sorry guys, you blew your chance to welcome young, technically savvy, enthusiastic, and truly conservative newcomers into the party. Too bad, so sad.

    And shouldn’t Blackwell be in jail?

  33. Trying to change the GOP from the inside may be the epitome of naivete, but sitting at home posting to H&R will only guarantee nothing will change.

    I think posting to H&R and other web forums has a lot greater chance to actually change people’s minds and to influence the next generation of political activists than going where fans of freedom aren’t welcome and where the establishment operatives are already set in their ways and attitudes. But good luck.

  34. Why on earth should Ken Blackwell be in jail?

    FWIW, I’m pretty familiar with Blackwell and…the GOP would just be getting a less-nuttier version of Alan Keyes in that one. I promise you.

  35. I watch the Republican Party’s moves, today, and feel like I am watching a cartoon. What is so hard about this?
    1. Get rid of Palin. The stupid cliches are bad enough.
    2. Joe the Plumber–who or what is this neanderthal? I wouldn’t let this guy fix my sink. I would really like to ask him some plumbing questions. Does he know anything about Shark-bites, T-traps, or MAPP soldering?
    3. The Republican Party “leadership,” especially those who supported McCain, should be tossed into a dumpster. They couldn’t lead F-troop.
    4. Bush, and all memories of that idiot, need to be expunged.
    5. Any Neocon or “war party fanatic” found to be wandering around near the Republican Headquarters or writing for a Republican-backed screed needs to be sent to a “re-education” camp.
    6. A huge number of Republican representatives and senators need to be changed out.
    It’s not that hard, really.

  36. If Doherty thinks Paul and Neuhaus are pointing the way to the future of the GOP god help us! The GOP’s problem is that it has become the prisoner of a lot of dead ideas (an interesting new book out there btw) and the various drummers it elevated over the last 20 years to promote those ideas and keep the faith strong. This includes people like Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter and all the usual suspects but has more recently moved from the purely commercial where these folks a fat living from drumming, to the farcical with the elevation of Palin and Joe the plumber, author, war correspondent, invent your own role for Joe. All these people are comic book characters but they reflect a party that is increasingly controlled by comic book characters and dominated by comic book narratives of which the magic negro and Palin’s latest effusions are but the most most recent colorful examples. What are those dead ideas. Well compile a list of Republican party positions on most social, economic and foreign policy ideas and ask yourself in all honesty if they represent where where the country is. I’m not going to compile the list but I’ll give you a couple of thought starters:
    Supply side economics
    Stem cell research
    Privatizing social security
    Etc etc.

    As for issue like the bail out. Basically people don’t understand it. They may be against bailing out the car companies in theory but when several million jobs go down the chute including theirs they will rapidly change their minds. And where anyone gets the idea that turning midwest and northeast rustbelt states into economic disaster zones is a vote getter for the GOP is a mystery to me. It’s the same with trying to deny women equal pay, this is going to make us more popular with women? Or how about putting all those illegal immigrants on buses back, this builds the hispanic vote? Wake up folks. Bush has wrecked the country and the GOP but that’s only the half of it.

  37. Well, it’s hard to argue with success. And what’s worked successfully for the Republicans since Richard Nixon is their having consciously decided to become the party of racial backlash and religious discord. That might be losing it’s appeal because of demographic trends, so something new and fundamental is in order. Perhaps formulating a philosophy that doesn’t depend on a bunch of venal and credulous hillbillies with one brain cell and one tooth between them is called for.

  38. The Republican Party is destined to become the Hee-Haw of politics.

  39. For the Republican Party to again be truly recognized as Republican, it will need to solve the economic insolvency that has been created by simple violations of the US Constitution. Namely Accomplish bankruptcy and eliminate the national so-called debt on which we now pay $1.3 Billion a day. With that done we can pay off Bailouts in a reasonable time schedule. Constitutionally we must return “To coin money and regulate the value thereof” for Congress and to declare war, when necessary.
    Keeping that money in our treasure to make the difference and no longer pay interest to bankers to print our own money.

  40. Obama’s approval rating is 56.3%, the Democratic led Congress is at 18.4% and the Democrats congressional approval rating is 47.6% to the Republicans 38.6%. There is no major shift where the Democrats are running away with the American voters.

    As soon as the Democrats start to raise taxes to pay for the bailout and or we see hyperinflation from the bailout, the Republicans will come back just because they aren’t Democrats. Terrorist attacks on American soil will also get Americans to vote for the Republican Party. There is no need for the Republicans to shift ideals, because it’s already known that shifting ideals doesn’t get new voters. For instance Al Gore supporters will not vote for Al Gore as a Republican.

  41. It doesn’t matter to me if they elected Ron Paul. The GOP has proven itself to me, it doesn’t give a crap about the people, it doesn’t give a crap about the principles. The only reason they even show any love for Ron Paul is because they are now powerless. If they had won this election with the platform of GWB, they wouldn’t even dare show any love for Ron Paul or his supporters.

    The GOP is just going to make more claims of smaller government and such, just as it did in the clinton years. But they have already proven, they just say what it takes to get votes, and then they dump the people right for their own agendas. When they had a chance to reduce government, they stiffed the people and increased it.

    Any republican seeking re-election who isn’t named Ron Paul can expect to NOT get support or votes from me. You had your chance, you blew it.

  42. Great discussion but how can you compete against Obama’s newest plan for national security at http://franklynchusa.wordpress.com

  43. “How about the GOP’s free-market fundamentalist ideology?”

    How about if the GOP actually lived up to a free-market fundamentalist ideology rather than a big-spending party that has actually reduced economic freedom in the US during the Bush Administration?

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