Does the RNC Matter?

Michael Steele's unfortunate decision to seek re-election as chairman of the Republican National Committee has sparked a bit of a debate over the relevance of the organization itself.  In one corner, my friend Allahpundit over at Hot Air:

[If Steele wins reelection] Republican outside groups are bound to start planning way ahead to pick up the slack in case the RNC can’t get its act together to fulfill its traditional fundraising and GOTV roles. No one cares about the RNC as an organization, only that its functions are being done and done well by some conservative outfit. If Steele’s reelected, it means that some other outfit or outfits will be pressured to step up. Inconvenient, but not fatal. I think.

And in the other corner, Tim Mak over at FrumForum, listing three of the RNC's built-in advantages over outside groups:

1. Coordination of Expenditures

2. Voter Files and Data; Getting Out the Vote

3. 2012 Republican Convention

I worked at a state GOP as recently as a few months ago, and saw up close the interaction between the RNC and state parties, candidates and so forth.  Mak has the better argument here, for the reasons he states (and describes in his post) and for a few others.  Contrary to what Mak's boss, the head of FrumForum, thinks, labels actually do matter.

Most folks probably don't realize this, but the RNC directly supports many if not most state Republican parties around the country, particularly in the smaller states.  That support can take the form of anything from picking up expenses for this and that to managing the party's web infrastructure and mass email systems to even providing staff and gear for activities like phone banks.  The state parties, in turn, do the hard work of administering the primaries, run the conventions, work with the state Republican executive committees, recruit candidates, and so forth.

One can argue all day about the relevance of the state parties, and they have been weakened by campaign finance laws at the state and federal levels in recent years, but without them it's far more difficult for even strong candidates to win and for victors to have any kind of party cohesion.  But both from an organization and communications point of view, the state parties are indispensable.  Whether you're talking media presence, statewide messaging, caucus coordination or a host of other things that happen in and out of the public eye every day, those jobs fall to the state parties.  From precincts on up, they're built into the electoral system.  And to the extent that the RNC supports the state parties, it is indispensable in these efforts too.