Does it matter who ends up running the Republican Party?

As Jonathan noted yesterday, the Republican National Committee needs a new leader, with no front-runner emerging for that job. Meanwhile, a mini-scandal has erupted over one candidate's decision to give RNC members a CD including a song called "Barack the Magic Negro."

Since the election, the divided Republican Party of Iowa has also been preoccupied with the search for a new chair. The comment threads on the leadership contest at Iowa conservative blogs are nastier than anything I remember reading on Democratic blogs when Howard Dean was running for Democratic National Committee chairman in 2005.

I've been wondering how much these leadership contests matter.

Obviously some people will be better organizers or better fundraisers or better communicators than others, and for all I know some of the declared candidates are truly inept. But let's assume the Republicans find leaders with all the qualities on a party hack's wish list. Will they be able to turn things around for the GOP by raising more money and improving their campaign mechanics?

Commenting on plans to create a think tank within the RNC called the "Center for Republican Renewal,"Matthew Yglesias recently observed,

Ambitious people don't like the idea that their fate is out of their hands. But an opposition political party's fate is largely out of its hands. The Democratic Party's recovery from its low ebb in the winter of 2004-2005 had very little to do with Democratic policy innovation and a great deal to do with the fact that the objective situation facing the country got worse. The time for the GOP to improve, policy-wise, was back then. Had the Bush administration been animated by better ideas, Bush might not have led to declining incomes, rising inequality, and catastrophic military adventures. But since he did, the GOP lost. And now the reality is that it's the Democrats' turn to govern. If things work out poorly, the GOP will get back in whether or not they have an ideological renewal, and if things work out well the Republicans will stay locked out.

I suspect Yglesias is right. Republican conservatives want to "embrace their core principles and effectively communicate a compelling message of bold-color conservatism". Moderates want to do away with "litmus tests" and "recapture the broad base."

But the facts of life are these: in Iowa and at the federal level, voters have given Democrats control of the legislative and executive branches. Whether the Republicans bounce back in 2010 or 2012 will depend more on whether Democrats blow it than whether the RNC or the Iowa GOP State Central Committee chooses the right leader.

What do you think?

Tags: conservatism, Ideology, Iowa, Republican moderates, Republican National Committee, Republican Party, Republican party of Iowa, Social Conservatives (all tags)



Re: Does it matter

It's hard to argue that it did not matter that Howard Dean ended up running the Democratic Party, so in a larger sense I think it matters who fills this job.  But I suspect you're right that in the short term none of these candidates are going to alter the course of history.

In terms of nuts and bolts, all of the RNC candidates seem to have the same basic idea, which is that the GOP needs to modernize its operations by ripping off Dean's and Obama's Internet innovations.  But the larger issue of which ideological direction the GOP is going to take is not really going to be for the RNC Chairman to say.

by Steve M 2008-12-30 11:14AM | 0 recs
Re: Does it matter

People tend to credit the Dean campaign's innovative use of the internet towards Dean's "success" as chairman.

I don't want to rain on the parade - but those are separate things. Dean deserves credit for deploying those tools during his campaign, but it was the Obama campaign - independent of the party establishment - that took them to the next level, without any help from the DNC (because it was a competitive primary).

Also - Dean just didn't raise much money - even WITH the new internet technologies that he had supposedly mastered. I'm not sure we can really give him that much credit for the gains in 2006 and 2008...

by Dale Johnson 007 2008-12-30 11:59AM | 0 recs
Re: Does it matter

I think Dean understood the need for rebuilding infrastructure and supporting the state parties in a way that another DNC Chair might not have.  I agree that there's no need to make him into a god over it, but I don't think it was nothing, either.  There was a very real philosophical debate that he emerged the winner of.

by Steve M 2008-12-30 12:50PM | 0 recs
Party chairman

I love Dean like the next guy (or gal), but I'm not sure how much he really did. The DNC didn't raise much they couldn't deploy that much in resources in 2006. That meant we couldn't stretch the map.

And in 2007/2008? The lengthy primary season/Obama campaign's organizing platform (developed independent of the DNC) really caused the widespread field advantage across the country against McCain.

You also have the downfall of the Republican party between 2004 and 2008 that really allowed for gains.

Sure, Dean gave a pittance to the state parties. And he oversaw the implementation of a dynamic/uniform voter identification system across the country. But any chair would have done that...and another chair might have had more money to develop a better system!

Like I said - I love Dean - but I'm not sure what the DNC does other than raise money and make a few strategic decisions.

by Dale Johnson 007 2008-12-30 11:57AM | 0 recs
Re: Does it matter ?

As I understand it, Dean initiated and implemented the "50-State Strategy", which brought enthusiasm and renewed vigor to Dems.

Thus Dems nationwide were more ready and open to take advantage of Repub. failures, nationally and locally, as well as the vigor of the Dem. primaries and general election campaign.  

by susie 2008-12-30 12:41PM | 0 recs

The Dem strategy before Dean was to concentrate on just a few targetted states and districts, which was a recipe for continued losses.  

by Kent 2008-12-30 12:57PM | 0 recs
It matters, the GOP needs both

incompetence on the part of the Dems and an improved image with voters so they can be viewed as a safe alternative. After Bush, and then Palin, the GOP looks scary to most voters. The Dems could screw up quite a bit and still be safe if the GOP does not learn how to project a more "comforting" image than they have for the last year.

At this point nearly everyone (even many republicans) just expects the GOP to do everything wrong, and now independents have been convinced by Palin that the GOP will nominate wingnuts. If the GOP does not break that image, Democrats could do a pretty poor job for years with few consequences. The great depression was followed by 20 years of Democratic presidents. They certainly made lots of mistakes. It required a war hero (Eisenhower) to give the GOP a second chance. Eisenhower could probably have won in any party: the GOP got a huge break.

So, as a loyal Democrat, I feel it is my job to punish lousy Democratic decisions and candidates in primaries and with other activism. The GOP will not be holding our party to account for some time to come.

by Mark Wallace 2008-12-30 05:04PM | 0 recs
Careful here

In 1992, it looked like Republicans were in awful shape and Democrats assumed that everything was theirs.  Then 1994 came and Democrats were a shell of their former party.  

by Kent 2008-12-30 05:20PM | 0 recs
Re: Careful here

Not to quibble, because you are right, but Clinton was a fluke, due to GOP misreading trends and a third-party candidate. Even in '92, the trend still seemed to be conservative, to me.

Now everything is different. The cold war is long over, and the western world is starting to lose its "faith" in capitalism. There will be big changes for a while, and the GOP is determined to be on the wrong side of those changes.

by Mark Wallace 2008-12-31 02:03AM | 0 recs


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