The RNC Debate

Americans for Tax Reform, the Susan B. Anthony List, and the Daily Caller hosted a debate between the candidates for chairmanship of the Republican National Committee today, including incumbent Michael Steele, Maria Cino. Reince Preibus, Saul Anuzis, and Ann Wagner.  This debate comes as a Politico survey of RNC members shows Steele has a very steep hill to climb for re-election, with 88 members either declaring their support for another candidate, or saying they would vote for anyone but Steele.  That leaves the current Chairman at least five votes short of the minimum 85 needed to secure election. 

The RNC race is a tough one to quarterback from an armchair.  It’s not a general election – in the end, only the 168 voting members of the Republican National Committee will have anything to say about who gets to sit in that somewhat uncomfortable chair.  It’s not a simple election, either.  It’s held in rounds, eliminating candidates until someone comes up with the magic 85 votes.  Steele himself won on the sixth round of voting, back in 2009.

These factors combine to make a crowded race unpredictable.  A candidate who looks a bit weak in the initial round of voting might suddenly look good to a lot of committee members, after their first choice has been eliminated.  Politico’s count currently has Preibus in the lead, followed by Wagner and Anuzis… but they only have 32, 13, and 11 fully committed votes, respectively.

Since the general public doesn’t vote in this election, “conventional wisdom” and interest in big news stories critical of Steele might not translate into irresistible trends among those 168 voters – a group not known for attending Tea Party rallies or Sarah Palin book signings.  They’re likely to pay more attention to input from big donors, such as the fundraising rejection letters Michelle Malkin has been collecting.  We just won’t know what they’re really thinking until the first round of voting hits on January 15.

The problem with today’s debate is that it was structured like a traditional candidate’s forum in a public election.  The aspirants were asked personality questions about their favorite book, how many guns they own, and who they regard as their greatest political hero.  They also got a lot of policy questions about ObamaCare, spending cuts, and abortion.  (Sadly, Steele said his favorite book was War and Peace… but proceeded to offer a quote from A Tale of Two Cities instead.  Note to all political candidates: pick your favorite book, magazine, song, and movie right now, and make sure you can quote from them accurately.  Tolstoy is not to be trifled with.)

All of this has very little to do with the nominal job of RNC chairman, who is supposed to be raising money and getting Republicans elected.  They should behave as if Skynet built them in a Terminator factory and sent them into the past with one directive: WIN ELECTIONS FOR THE GOP.  The RNC just completed a fabulously successful midterm election, which is a nice bullet point on Steele’s resume… but they’re $20 million in debt, which is an armor-piercing bullet point.

The candidate debate today was like something out of a political campaign, where the RNC should be more interested in holding a job interview.  Maybe Steele will end up with that job again – reports of his certain demise seem very premature, with several rounds of voting ahead of us.  Much will depend on the precise nature of the position the RNC is looking to fill.  Today we got a taste of how they’d handle themselves on a Sunday-morning talk show.  The real question is how they would deal with a hyperventilating accountant waving a bloody spreadsheet in one hand, and a stack of fundraising rejection letters in the other.