The GOP's Man of Steele?
The GOP has taken its first steps back to relevancy since November 4th by electing itself a new chairman: former Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele. Steele replaces the disgraced Mike Duncan, whose mismanagement of the party left it light years behind the DNC in terms of technology and inclusiveness. It was a historic moment as Steele is the first black RNC member to be elected chair. Despite these feats, many who comprise the base of the GOP are cautious because while Steele represents the next generation in conservatism, they don't trust his moderate beginnings, his past association with the RLC (I've touched on this earlier), or his remarks on "big tent" politics.
Conservatism, when watered-down and modified into a broad, moderate platform, fails. It has failed every election, on every ticket, at every poll it has been presented. Yet time and time again party leaders believe that it is achievable because they, unlike their predecessors, will do it right.
This is where my concern lies with Michael Steele. We saw conservatism presented as a moderate platform during this last election and we saw it fail, again. We were told that we needed a moderate candidate and that instead of working to make the ideals of the GOP, a historically conservative party, appealing, we had to compromise them for the sake of winning elections. The base revolted and all but abandoned the party during the primaries; those conservatives who did vote cast their marks for evangelical Mike Huckabee. Sweet, but not viable. When threatened, the base will turn to a candidate who is a caricature of themselves just to get the point across that they will have no moderate.
Duncan basically responded with a "don't let the door hit you in the ass" attitude. He later tried to make it up to them by affixing the truest viable conservative in the party to date onto the ticket; it worked to energize the base but in true Mike Duncan style he played his cards wrong and his mismanagement and the consequences stemming from the haphazard and chaotic management of the McCain campaign (which I witnessed firsthand) fell upon Sarah Palin. It worked well for the moderate Duncan; both he and McCain heinously let her take the fall and used it post-election to try to fool the base into thinking his loss, at her hand, was a sign that conservatism is irrelevant. Except that McCain surged in the polls when he was aligned with a conservative candidate and voters across the country attested to how they were voting more for her than for him. That, and conservatives aren't idiots.
You could't tell that the GOP had a chairman these few months post-election, the way they bobbed along without any direction. A plethora of candidates emerged, all vying for the seat, some more embarrassing than others. Michael Steele may very well have won because he was the least embarrassing for the party in terms of public relations.
Now as newly-elected chair, Steele wants to overhaul the GOP, beginning with technology. I find this odd for someone who was among the last of the candidates to embrace social media, who used it as a soundboard instead of a conversation. But he's eager, which is more than I could ever have said of Duncan. Amanda Carpenter writes of Steele's plan:
"First off, Steele would hire a Chief Information Officer on a six month contract “just as private entities do,” as he wrote in the plan. He’d also create an e-campaign devoted to developing a stronger online presence for state parties and bring on more staff for blogger outreach. He’d bring together a Working Group to identify best practices to give to state and local party organizations as well."
Jennifer Rubin lists seven steps Steele might take to set the GOP back on the road to recovery:
"First, Steele should offer to debate DNC Chairman Tim Kaine coast-to-coast on the Democrats’ stimulus plan and the economic crisis. This is the number one issue on voters’ minds, and for once the Republicans are making headway. The public is souring on the House Democrats’ spend-a-thon disguised as a stimulus bill. And Republicans have an attractive message: cut the pork, reduce taxes, and, if we must spend gobs of money, do it on worthwhile infrastructure and needed national defense projects. Steele is a capable and likeable figure who could communicate this message well. And a debate offer would signify that the Republicans aren’t afraid to take on the administration when it is wrong. (It would also give Steele a high visibility platform to re-establish the GOP’s populist credentials, by among other things, taking on the Obama administration’s not very New Politics — including the White House’s proclivity to hire ex-lobbyists and tax cheats.)"
The clear winning strategy is to return to the conservative principles which made the GOP a powerhouse in the 80s - and sticking to those principles, not abandoning them after the swearing-in ceremony. Do we have any GOP members besides a lone woman with the spine to do this? Will Steele encourage these up-and-comers? That remains to be seen.