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It’s the fundraising, stupid: RNC candidates ‘debate’

Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/2010/08/MahurinElephant_Thumb.jpgThe debate held Monday among the candidates for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee was like an egg cream — the literal meaning isn’t the same as its contents. With one exception, current RNC Chairman Michael Steele and his challengers — former Michigan GOP Chair Saul Anuzis, former Bush administration official Maria Cino, Wisconsin Republican Party Chair Reince Priebus, and former Missouri Republican Party Chairwoman Ann Wagner — avoided debating each other. “I’m not running against anybody,” said Priebus, in the opening of his closing statement, who was a backer of Steele in 2009 before announcing his own candidacy in early December.

Instead, the debate hosted by Tucker Carlson and Grover Norquist at the National Press Club in Washington resembled a job interview. Candidates listed what “skills” they have for the position, how their past experiences would help them lead the RNC and how they would do the job (all interspersed with the occasional awkward joke). Their interlocutors repeatedly asked them to answer questions “specifically,” which they generally did not.

Though Norquist reminded the audience that there was “no job description,” being a party chair is really about one thing — raising money. The candidates all said how they could raise money to defeat President Obama in 2012. Priebus said he would spend “five or six” hours on the phone everyday with major donors, saying that the RNC needed to raise $400 million to defeat the president. “It’s all about fundraising,” said Anuzis in his opening.

“We don’t do policy, we do politics,” said Chairman Steele. “You don’t get to dictate the terms of policy to the (House) speaker, or the minority leader. If you get it wrong, You’ll be reminded, ‘you don’t do policy,’” he ended, drawing the loudest applause from the crowd for the chairman,

Steele, the center of debate, knows whereof he speaks. Soon after he was elected as RNC chairman, he said — in comments that were anathema to most Republicans — that abortion was an “individual choice” to be decided by the states in a May 2009 interview with GQ. In the debate, Steele — who is often animated on cable news shows — appeared subdued. According to a Politico report this morning, Steele does not have the votes from the 168-member RNC to stay on for a second term.

In the one exception to the lack of debate in the debate, Steele defended his record as RNC chairman when Wagner attacked his lack of funding for GOTV operations along the lines of a memo by former Steele aide — and former RNC candidate himself before dropping out — Gentry Collins. “We didn’t have 72-hour program — we had a 12-month program. We won 64 house seats, 21 state legislatures flipped.” He maintained that the program was done differently. “We won in all fifty states this year. And that’s the goal, winning. Find me a state that didn’t have a winning election.”

Despite the Republicans’ success in the midterm elections, the RNC is $15 million in debt; reports indicate that it has already spent lavishly for its 2012 convention in Tampa; and it has had to delay payment to convention vendors. Steele meekly suggested at the outset that the debt might be “refinanced” and the party would have to “hunker down, get the money right, get the dollars right.”

The race for RNC chair is of course, not an open election — 168 members choose the chairman in a race that often has multiple ballots — but Priebus appears to be the front-runner, according to vote counts. He also acted like it. He repeatedly spoke of the need to work with the conservative movement and the tea party. He also talked like a tea partier, sounding the alarm of American decline. “We are about to fall off a fiscal cliff,” he said in his opening. “We need to save our country, and in turn to save our party, and take back the White House,” he said, often repeating the need to “save our country” more than any other candidate.

Priebus also had huge success in normally-blue Wisconsin in 2010. Plastics magnate Ron Johnson won his first election, defeating Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold by painting him as a Washington insider. Longtime House Appropriations Chair David Obey (D-Wisc.) retired and his seat was taken by Republican Sean Duffy, who was previously a cast member on MTV’s “The Real World.” Wisconsin’s Republicans took over the governorship, both legislatures and picked up an additional U.S. House seat.

Ultimately, the RNC chairmanship race is shaping up a lot like the Republican narrative of the 2010 elections — Priebus, talking the language of the tea party, looks poised to defeat the fiscally-irresponsible incumbent Michael Steele on January 14.

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