The RNC Chairman Debate: Who Won, Who Lost?
The five remaining candidates for RNC chairman (Gentry Collins dropped out of the race Sunday night) debated at the National Press Club Monday. I watched it on C-SPAN and tweeted it live, here. It was a somewhat frustrating debate to watch. Thanks to the questions posed by both the moderators, Tucker Carlson and Grover Norquist, as well as those in the physical and internet audience, the candidates spent too much time debating social issues rather than discussing the GOP's issues and what the chairman's role is, and how each candidate plans to do business if elected. That's not the candidates' fault; the questions just did a poor job of focusing on what the party chairman actually does.
Briefly put, the party chairman's job boils down to three major tasks: money, message and manpower.
This is the most obvious. The party chairman needs to be able to raise money, and lots of it. This task is more than fundraisers, direct mail and phone calls. It's all of that plus choosing wisely among the zillions of consultants and vendors out there, all of whom are more than happy to charge a large chunk out of every dollar raised to help the party fundraise. The chairman therefore needs a strong knowledge of what techniques and messages work best, how timing and economic cycles impact fundraising, and how technology is evolving to make fundraising easier and cheaper, so that every dollar raised goes as far as it possibly can toward winning elections.
The chairman needs to be more than just a doctrine conservative. He or she needs to be that, but they also need to be able to articulate the party's principles when called upon to do so. This is about more than radio and TV hits, it's about the day to day direction and image of the party. The message part of the job is more than one way. The chairman needs to be a voice for the grassroots, and a voice for the party's principles, and the chairman delivers that message to the undecided voter, to the press, and to elected Republicans who always face the seduction of the Beltway. Message in today's environment also includes strategic uses of social media to move the party's ideas beyond traditional media and means of communication, to effectively present the GOP cause to persuadable voters where they're most likely to receive those messages.
The chairman organizes the party's headquarters staff and its field staff, and also works with state parties, elected officials and candidates to move manpower where it's needed most, when it's needed most. When you're talking about field staff, get out the vote (GOTV) efforts, recruitment, block walking, phone banking, etc you're talking about manpower, which is one of the RNC chairman's core duties.
The RNC chairman debate didn't focus enough on these three topics. It did focus on social issues, it did focus on who the candidates consider to be their political heroes (other than Reagan), and it did focus on national policy. It also focused on trivia such as on how many guns each candidate owns (Wagner wins this one, with 16), and what their favorite books are (and in which Steele attributed a Dickens quote to Tolstoy, for whatever that's worth). All fun, all largely irrelevant.
Overall, today's debate was not a moment of glory for any of the candidates or the hosts. Here is my take on the five.