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Republicans' Dilemma: Michael Steele's Replacement

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Although his tenure as Republican National Committee chairman has been peppered with high-profile resignations, sex club allegations, frequent gaffes and fundraising woes, the calls for Michael Steele's resignation prompt a larger question: Who to put in his place?

Steele's term runs out in January, so he's likely to hang on. The bigger issue confronting the Grand Old Party is who, in the absence of an agreed-upon national leader (i.e., a president or a presidential nominee), is the best kind of person to assume the party apparatus as the GOP attempts to recapture one or both houses of Congress and possibly the White House in 2012.

Six Politics Daily writers offer their thoughts -- some serious, some whimsical. You be the judge which is which.

Jill Lawrence: GO NORTH, GO FEMALE

The next chairman of the RNC will serve at a time when the party's 2012 presidential hopefuls will be in the spotlight. Keeping that in mind, Republicans might want to choose a party chair who has demonstrated skills as an executive or administrator, and not worry too much about charisma. Ideally, their new chairman would be a chairwoman, as a way of addressing a persistent gender gap. And she would not be a Southerner. That region is already strong for the GOP. The party needs someone who can reach out and look to the future. Here are two prospects:

Maria Cino: A native of Buffalo, N.Y., Cino has decades of experience in leadership positions in the Republican Party and in the federal government. She was acting transportation secretary and deputy transportation secretary in George W. Bush's administration. She's also been executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, national political director of the 2000 Bush campaign and deputy chairman of the RNC. In 2008 she was president and chief executive of the Republican convention; her management skills won rave reviews from local authorities. Cino is currently a lobbyist for Pfizer. That's a downside in this climate, but not fatal when compared with her qualifications for this job.

Jodi Rell: Rell has been governor of Connecticut since mid-2004 and is not running for re-election. An ethics crusader and fiscal conservative, she served 10 years in the state House and nearly a decade as lieutenant governor before a scandal toppled Gov. John Rowland and she ascended to his job. Rell's conservative credentials include vetoing a repeal of the death penalty and trying to block creation of a public health insurance plan in her state (it passed over her veto). Rell was mentioned as a possible vice presidential contender in 2008. Among her credentials to head the RNC: She's very popular in a region where the GOP desperately wants and needs to make a comeback.


Although big GOP wins in November may give Michael Steele reason to try for a second term, that is probably not in the cards. But what type of party leader is best?

The person who chairs a major political party should be solid on four fronts: politics, of course; fundraising; public policy; and dealing with the media. Former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida would be a safe, blue-chip choice who would hit all four marks. So would Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, who held the job during the Clinton presidency, and had his hands on the levers in 1994 when Republicans swept to victory in the midterm elections -- exactly what they want to do in 2010. Haley Barbour may not want to try to reprise that tough-to-follow act, especially since he's already chairman of the Republican Governors Association. But if Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota does not catch on in his early 2012 soundings for the White House, he is another proven commodity who could switch his sights to party chief.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich has the policy stuff down, but may be too invested in his own agendas to lead the party. And what about former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska? She's mentioned as a 2012 presidential contender, but who knows? If she wanted to stop earning millions and run the RNC, she has pizazz for sure -- and is already the de facto head of a populist movement. She just may be too controversial, even in a big Republican tent.

Walter Shapiro: TEA PARTY TAMER

The myth that is apt to complicate the GOP's search for a replacement for Michael Steele is the belief that a national party chairman has to be good on television. Nonsense. All that is required of a party leader is to be non-embarrassing and non-controversial – on or off television. Steele flunked on all these counts. Still, there is no need to search for the right telegenic face (or an already famous figurehead) because national party chairmen are guests on the TV Sunday talk shows only when the bookers cannot find a single breathing administration official or senator.

What the Republicans need now is a leading political operative and not an ideological leader. Ken Mehlman, who lacked the grandiose strategic arrogance of Karl Rove, played that role as Republican chairman during the 2004 campaign. While he is now prospering on Wall Street and probably cannot be lured back to the Republican National Committee, Mehlman is that rare veteran of the Bush years who remains untarnished by the disastrous second term. Another smart and adept GOP technician is Kevin DeWine, who took over as Ohio GOP chairman in 2009 after serving as the state party's executive director. DeWine, who is attempting to tame the Tea Party movement in Ohio, understands that elections in this up-for-grabs state are fought out and decided in the center.


Capitol Hill insiders say they expect Michael Steele to fill out the rest of his rocky term. But whenever Steele goes, the Republican Party faces what one veteran calls an "existential crisis" as the GOP tries to capitalize on a restless electorate while also rebuilding a tarnished brand and dealing with an unwieldy Tea Party movement that is nearly as fed up with the Republican establishment as it is the Democrats.

Since the hugely popular (former committee chairman) Haley Barbour has his hands full as governor of Mississippi, some party stalwarts say the next best thing could be Henry Barbour, the governor's nephew and former campaign manager -- a seasoned politico in his own right. The younger Barbour would bring along his uncle's Rolodex for fundraising purposes, while being a fresh enough face to avoid the baggage of other possible contenders. On the down side, a white, Southern male wouldn't do much to broaden the party's appeal. But if Henry Barbour can organize and raise the money (the top jobs for the chairman), then the Republicans' non-traditional 2010 lineup featuring numerous female and minority candidates can do the rest.


Some believe the best candidates to run political parties are seasoned politicians with histories of winning elections and raising money. Michael Steele, the man currently holding the top political job in the Republican Party, actually fits that profile. Let's not forget: He was lieutenant governor of Maryland before running unsuccessfully for Senate in 2006. Unfortunately, Steele crosses our field of vision mostly these days when he shoots his mouth off -- sacrificing credibility for attention-getting sound bites.

My candidate for his replacement is Arizona state Sen. Pamela Gorman, currently running for Congress. Gorman certainly seems to have the firepower for the job. The attractive, soft-spoken, conservative Christian supports states' rights, the Second Amendment, limited government, and staunchly opposes abortion. She reminds me a little of Bree Hodge, the character played by Marcia Cross on ABC's "Desperate Housewives." As a bonus, Gorman strikes me as a straight shooter. Check out this campaign video currently circulating to solicit donations.


Republicans might want to keep two things in mind as they cast about for Michael Steele's successor. The first is that he still has some defenders within the party, especially the Tea Party wing. The second is that he is the first person of color to hold that job -- and whatever his perceived failings, Steele helped change the public face of the GOP.

So, are there minority entrants out there who could pass muster on the issues the Republican base will not compromise on?

Yes, and one of them is already a household name in this country, and his stance on a host of issues -- most recently the Second Amendment -- are, literally, the law of the land. That's Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas we're talking about, of course. Politics Daily legal affairs writer Andrew Cohen wrote recently about a nascent Clarence Thomas for president movement. Doesn't he need some political experience, first?

Notwithstanding Jill Lawrence's point about the gender gap, maybe the GOP just wants to forget questions such as color and gender and pick the Republicans Party's resident bad-ass. I'm talking, of course, about arch-conservative author, actor, and martial arts champion Chuck Norris.

If you have high school kids, you've heard them: Chuck Norris jokes. [Sample: "When Chuck Norris does push-ups, he doesn't push himself up, he pushes the Earth down." Or, "Some people wear Superman pajamas. Superman wears Chuck Norris pajamas."]

My favorite: "Chuck Norris ordered a Big Mac at Burger King -- and got one." Isn't that the kind of leader the Republicans need? In 2008, Norris endorsed Mike Huckabee for president, an endorsement Huckabee announced with a straight-faced Chuck Norris joke of his own: "My plan to secure the border? Two words: Chuck Norris."

The Huck didn't win the White House, but it wasn't Norris' fault. Or as the teenagers might say: "Chuck Norris doesn't need Mike Huckabee. Mike Huckabee's party needs Chuck Norris."

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What about Michael Savage? Maybe he would traid in his independent status for the GOP nod. Most of the world acts like he dosen't exist because their scared of the truth he speaks. He is a best selling author and great radio personal and doesent pick sides. He would not be subject to bribes or corruption cause he has too much pride to lower himself to the normal polititians level. The republicans need a leader like that. Hell, America needs a leader like that.

July 11 2010 at 7:23 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

First off, I am very glad the comments are being monitored more closely. Maybe it will be more "worth-reading."

I am a Democrat/Republican...depending on the issues and platform at hand. I voted for President Obama, and as everyone else, have my own opinions now about how things seemed to be going. That being said, I am so.....glad Mr. Steele is finally brought to light for HIS actions. All he did was bad-mouth President Obama in a very arrogant way and did not have a good thing to say, it seems, to just about everybody. Whenever I was channel-surfing and he was on a program, I could not hit the channel button fast enough. Hmmmmm, there is a saying about people living in glass houses,.....hmmmmm....what would that refer to, I wonder!!!



July 11 2010 at 5:02 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I do not recognize some of the people listed.. Many of them are probably worthy but as an Ohio Republican I am totally opposed to either Mike or Kevin Dewine. Probably the only democrat that I will vote for in Ohio is Richard Cordray who is being opposed by Mike Dewine. As a Conservative I worked hard to defeat Dewine for the U S Senate and promise to work hard to defeat him as Attorney General. I was sorry to see his cousin gain control of the Ohio Republican Party. We still have a lot of work to make corrections within the Ohio Reoublican Party

July 11 2010 at 3:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ron and Nancy

Newt carries more baggage that Zsa Zsa Gabor and Paris Hilton combined.

Newt's a very bright man, but his time has come and gone.

Adios, and good riddance.

July 11 2010 at 2:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Yes lets vote for another Republican, the ones that got us into this mess( that will take years to get partially out of), they have shown how good they are at managing the country. Let us knock down President Obama for not fixing the Republican disaster soon enough. Let us believe all the hype and lies coming from politicians with no challenge from the media. Let us believe there is a Liberal controlled media/press, even though corporations control all media.

July 11 2010 at 2:40 PM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to musicplr03's comment

It must be nice living in your world with the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny. Your democratic talking points are impeccable. Obama would be proud. The news media gave Obama a total pass for over a year and it is now getting so serious that even the most liberal of the news media are having to challenge some of his statements and policies.

July 11 2010 at 3:47 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Colette; The war in Afghanistan began 10-07-01. The war in Iraq began 3-20-03. You might get your timeline straight before you begin making unfounded accusations.

July 11 2010 at 2:28 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I also want to nominate as my second choice for RNC chariman, another great Republican and conservative - former presidential candidate of both the Republican and Independent parties - the great, the inimitable Mr. Patrick J. Buchnan! Mr Buchanan certainly does not deserve to be second to anyone - except that I doubt he'd want the RNC chairmanship position.

This group of worthy candidates have a monopoly on Republican values, brains and political savvy that is unmatched by the entire constituency of the Democratic party combined.
First Choice - Rush Limbaugh
Second Choice - Patrick Buchanan
Third Choice - Ann Coulter

July 11 2010 at 2:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think Chuck Norris is a wonderful example of conservatism and I know that he would certainly give my sons a reason to follow politics more closely; but as far as someone who could run the RNC and be able to pull in the donations which will be needed in the 2012 elections, my vote would be for actor Gary Sinise. He has the poise, is well spoken and seems to be able to voice his opinion without bringing controversy into a discussion.

July 11 2010 at 2:16 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

colette, how's your memory? All of the bigwig Democrats back then, Kerry, Clinton, and probably Obama, if you can find the tapes, thought there were WMD's. Who are you trying to kid?

July 11 2010 at 2:07 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

As a voter from the great state of New Jersey, I nominate the charismatic Mr. RUSH LIMBAUGH as Republican National committee chairman. GO RUSH!

July 11 2010 at 2:05 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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