For the third time in 36 years, the Republican National Committee will accept a shared leadership arrangement with a U.S. senator as party general chairman and an RNC member as the full-time chairman. Meeting in Washington D.C., the 167-member RNC today made official the White House’s choice of Florida Sen. Mel Martinez as general chairman of the party and Kentucky Republican National Committeeman Mike Duncan as full-time chairman.
But it won’t be with enthusiasm that the RNC gives its approval to the Martinez-Duncan team. As one committee member arriving in Washington for the RNC winter meeting told me, “We’re like the Politburo in the old Soviet Union. We go along with what the White House wants when there’s a Republican living there. But that doesn’t mean we like it.”
Members are not united in their objections to the plan for succession to outgoing Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman. As Michigan State Party Chairman Saul Anuzis told me, “Criticism is over three basic points: There are some who don’t believe that the general chairman model—tried with Kansas Sen. Bob Dole in the early 1970s and then with Nevada Sen. Paul Laxalt during the Reagan presidency—is a good model. Second, there are those opposed to Sen. Martinez’s position on immigration, believing that such a strong supporter of an ‘amnesty’ program is a concern for the party’s image. And third, there’s the process.”
By process, Anuzis, a self-described “Kemp-Gingrich Republican,” said he meant a nationwide conference call of RNC members on November 13. On that occasion, the Michigander told me, “Ken Mehlman and [White House Deputy Chief of Staff] Karl Rove were asking for input from the members and before the day was over, the Associated Press already had a story that Martinez was going to be recommended as general chairman and Duncan as chairman. Many members expressed disappointment that the decision had already been made.
“There is a natural tendency to support the White House on this process. But it won’t be without some frank and sometimes intense discussion about that process. Many members who spoke to me felt used and/or abused.”
Before the RNC meeting, the Washington Times cited similar complaints from a number of members, notably Arizona National Committeeman Randy Pullen (who is an outspoken opponent of illegal immigration and a candidate for state chairman) and North Dakota National Committeeman Curley Haugland, who voiced anger that an elected official who was not an RNC member should be made its leader.
Duncan and RNC Chief of Staff-designee Anne Hathaway decided that the traditional members-only meeting of the RNC be held before the vote on Mehlman’s successor rather than at the close of the meeting. Virginia Republican National Committeeman Morton Blackwell and Anuzis said after a luncheon Wednesday that they were pleased that the RNC had moved the “members only” meeting to before the general session so that members could have some input in the meeting. “There are a lot of feelings that we can get out in the open, and we will,” Blackwell told me.