Tuesday, December 22, 2009

RNC Chairman Michael Steele Cashes In

The revelation that Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele is being paid for speeches outside of his RNC salary is ample reason for the committee members to recall and replace him in the post.

As a former regional political director for the RNC and chief of staff for a co-chairman of the RNC who has a reasonable understanding of the mechanics of the RNC, it is disturbing to learn that Mr. Steele is marketing himself through speaker bureaus for speaking fees. Further, it is unprecedented. No other recent RNC chairman ever accepted fees to speak while chairman. There may be examples of a chairman earning income from other endeavors pre-dating their election to the post, but that is far different from a sitting chairman profiting from a task that is part of the job description.

Mr. Steele's leadership qualities are in doubt, with this episode only casting more skepticism on his ability to lead the GOP to a more fruitful era. Former RNC Jim Nicholson, who deserves credit for his performance in the job, said of the matter: "Taking time out to speak for the benefit of one's own bank account is not appropriate." Usually former chairmen keep quiet about the performance of their successors, so the fact that Mr. Nicholson and former RNC chairmen Frank Fahrenkopf and Rich Bond have criticized Mr. Steele for his speaking fees indicates the gravity of the revelation.

The committee members of the RNC are urged to dismiss Mr. Steele and find a leader who is up to the near Augean task of revitalizing and making relevant the Republican Party.

RNC Silent on Rep. Griffith Party Switch; Allows Hard Right to Denounce Move

The Republican National Committee should be heralding the party switch of Democratic House Representative Parker Griffith (AL-5). Instead the RNC's web site is devoid of any mention of Rep. Griffith switching his party affiliation to the GOP.

Freshman Rep. Parker is a Blue Dog Democrat who has clearly decided Speaker Nancy Pelosi's House majority is not a place he is comfortable calling home. In 2008 he won with 52% of the vote, while Sen. John McCain won the congressional district with 61%.  Clearely Rep. Parker came to understand that as a Democrat he was simply renting the seat.  However, the switch is an opportunity for the RNC to state there is momentum in the GOP's favor going into the mid-term elections in 2010.

Rather than seizing this development to craft a larger story that voters are unsatisfied with legislation coming from House Democrats, the RNC has allowed the story to be co-opted by hard right organizations like Club for Growth and Red State who would rather reject Rep. Parker's conversion than embrace it as indicative of a trend that will propel GOP victories in November 2010.

The degree that the RNC has been smothered by the hard right should be disconcerting to the GOP rank and file. In the past a party switch ten months before a significant election cycle would be fodder for the RNC that demonstrates a mood shift on the heels of the last year of Democratic legislative initiatives. Today it does not even warrant a press release as of this posting; this is no way to rebuild a floundering party that needs all the good news it can get.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Terrified Democratic House Members

There are 13 Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives who are terrified for their political lives. Each of them represents the best opportunity for the Republican Party to pick up House seats in the 2010 mid-term election. The main characteristics they share are: that they are all freshman legislators; each got less than 55% of the vote in 2008 and; to a one they are distraught over the Democratic Party’s deficit spending. They are: Connolly (VA11), Adler (NJ3), Bright (AL2), Massa (NY29), Driehaus (OH1) , Minnick (ID1), Griffith (AL5), Murphy (NY20), Heinrich (NM1), Pingree (ME1), Himes (CT4), Kissell (NC8) and Schrader (OR5).

These freshmen are so distraught over the Democratic House leadership’s deficit spending that they composed a letter to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pleading the case that unspent and repaid TARP funds should be earmarked for deficit reduction. Of the 13, eight voted against HR 2847; a $154 billion jobs bill that passed the House by five votes (Democrats have a majority in the House with 258 members).

Of the 22 Democratic freshmen who won in 2008 with less than 55% of the vote, 11 voted to pass HR 2847. This group is the most vulnerable in 2010 despite their political calculations to cast the vote for those in their districts hit hardest by the recession. However, they are all vulnerable to defeat as measured against latest national polling data. Recently CNN reported that 67% of all Americans do not support deficit spending and that balancing the budget should be the priority.

The Republican’s fountain of youth can be found at the intersection of Jobs Street and Deficit Drive in Anywhere, USA. GWU reports that 62% of Americans do not believe congressional economic stimulus measures are working. Yet still the Republican National Committee’s leadership insists on seeking the solution by affiliating with a small segment of the voting population that believes that non-secular intolerance is the path to victory. Rather than establishing GOP bona fides on the economy and the budget, the RNC is busy throwing fuel on the fire that gave the country town hall screaming matches instigated by the Tea Bagging movement during the August 2009 congressional break.

NBC reports that 43% of Americans have a negative opinion of the GOP and that 63% of Americans believe President Obama inherited the current economic conditions from his Republican predecessor. Pew found that Republicans leaders in Congress have a 51% disapproval rating. ABC News found that 52% of Americans believe President Obama is better at handling the economy than the GOP. The GOP is far from rehabilitating itself on these two important issues that will drive the day on November 2, 2010.

The RNC and its House and Senate affiliates should be focused like a laser on candidate recruitment, particularly in the districts with Democratic freshmen who won with less than 55% of the vote in 2008, with an added emphasis on the 11 Democratic freshmen members who voted for Speaker Pelosi’s recent jobs bill that chose reckless spending over deficit reduction. More time on fundamentals and less time on tea bagging its favorite coalition group is where the RNC should be concentrating its time, money and talent.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

GOP Voter Litmus Test

Recently Mr. James Bopp, accomplished GOP ballot access attorney and Republican National Committeeman from Indiana, unveiled a litmus test for GOP candidates to be voted on by the full committee in January 2010. The litmus test stipulates that any GOP candidate seeking support and assistance from the RNC must meet seven of ten conditions. The conditions of the “Proposed RNC Resolution on Reagan’s Unity Principle for Support of Candidates (PRRUPSC):

1) We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama's "stimulus" bill;
2) We support market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run healthcare;
3) We support market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation;
4) We support workers' right to secret ballot by opposing card check;
5) We support legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants;
6) We support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges;
7) We support containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat;
8) We support retention of the Defense of Marriage Act;
9) We support protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion; and
10) We support the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership;

This is the RNC’s attempt to refashion a Contract with America (CwA) message for the 2010 elections. The difference is the PPRUPSC actively engages controversial issues where the CwA sought to avoid polarization by focusing on what can be termed as 60% issues; those issues with which 60% of American agree according to survey research. Mr. Bopp has led the GOP into deep and precarious waters by seeking to have the RNC codify what makes and does make a Republican on issues that aren’t salient to a majority of American voters.

The CwA was undeniably successful, helping to deliver a Republican majority to Congress in 1994 by positively and simply defining the GOP in a manner easily understood by the electorate. The PPRUPSC fails in this charge by presenting more as a litmus test than a set of principles due to the fact that the resolution ties support to a candidate's performance on these issues.

The larger problem for the RNC if it passes this resolution is it will be easily manipulated by Democratic candidates to define Republican candidates as intolerant and inflexible. The PPRUPSC directly confronts gay marriage, abortion and gun rights thus choosing to headline issues that are unlikely to be top of mind to the 2010 voter. A recent Gallup survey reported that only 12 percent of Americans think gun laws need to be less strict. Support for same-sex marriage is growing with as many as 42 percent of Americans in support according to CBS News earlier this year. Abortion speaks for itself as a polarizing issue best used in the mailbox and not at the general election ballot box.

With this resolution Mr. Bopp is seeking to fight some legislative battles that have already been determined. Cap and trade is a fact; healthcare reform is soon to be a fact; card check is not broadly a winning issue or relevant to 2010 and; President Obama has already committed more troops to Afghanistan.

The PPRUPSC is bad for the GOP is because it will be used by Democrats to polarize voters against Republican candidates. There is fertile ground on economic issues to give the GOP victories in 2010 and that is where the RNC should craft its resolutions, rather than playing in its preferred sandbox of abortion, guns and gay marriage.  A significant segment of the electorate will be easily persuaded that any litmus test that applies to candidates also applies to voters.