Three Card Monte and the RNC Chairman's Race

Be very careful.  The speculation on RNC Chairman is in full swing now and most people are being distracted by the kabuki dance — so distracted that they aren’t keeping an eye on the cards as they shuffle about on the table.

Right now, the big name is Michael Steele.  If you are a betting man, play the odds to your advantage and bet against him.  Bet against Newt Gingrich too.  In fact, bet against all the big names.  The people who are touting them do not have the votes to get them elected.  The effort you see is an effort to build momentum for them.  

Here is what you need to know.

The committee members of the RNC have roughly one-third who would not mind keeping Mike Duncan on board.  That would be a terrible idea.  These members are mostly status quo types.  They can easily be persuaded to change their minds.

One third of the RNC is pretty squishy on social issues.  This third is mostly pro-choice and country club.  Ironically, it is mostly this same set of RNC members who favor Mitt Romney’s involvement in the process.  Romney himself is not interested, but may quietly be pushing a candidate.  Don’t expect his candidate to be naturally embraced by this group, though they support Romney.

One third of the RNC insists on a socially conservative candidate.  Keep your eye on this group.  Having learned lessons from the 2008 primary, you can expect a united front agitating for one candidate.  This group is mostly the old hands at the RNC.  They know how to play the game behind the scenes and they know how to put pressure on the other committee members to get their way.  If you’re following the cards, keep your eye on their card.

Two-thirds of the RNC’s committee members want someone who is presently on the committee to be Chairman.  This is why we can mostly write off Gingrich, Steele, and others.  However, do not count them all out.  Pat Toomey and Fred Thompson are two intriguing choices that could shift votes — Pat Toomey, currently running the Club For Growth, in particular.

With the one-third conservative contingent and the two-thirds who want someone already on the committee to serve, there is a strong sense that, unlike the media generated conventional wisdom, the RNC members recognize the party needs a strong behind the scenes manager, not a public face.  There are enough egos and public faces for the party already.

Right now, the odds on favorite would be someone like Katon Dawson of South Carolina.  Both he and Saul Anuzis, from Michigan, know the party, are workers within the party, and can be effective.  Between the two, I hear committee members slightly favor Dawson to Anuzis because, I’m told, Dawson has been able to keep the big egos in his state from hurting party efforts.  With everyone wanting to be the face of the Republican Party, there is no division among the RNC committee members on this point: someone is going to have to put their ego aside and bring all the party’s factions together to fight.  With fond memories of Haley Barbour as the last really successful Chairman, more than a few members see him reflected in Katon Dawson.

All things being equal, were I a betting man, I would keep my money off the table.  There is still a lot of shaking out to take place before a clear front runner emerges.