The Campaign Spot

More Thoughts from the RNC Chair Debate . . .

My full report from today’s RNC chair debate is on the editor’s desk and will be up shortly. But for now, a few quick takes . . .

  • Current RNC chairman Michael Steele began quieter and more subdued than one might expect, considering how he is on the hot seat. He defended his record, but there wasn’t the usual fire in his voice. I suspect one of his later statements from today will overlap a great deal with his concession speech, if he ends up giving one: “My record stands for itself. We won. I was asked to win elections. I was asked to raise money, and I raised $190 million over the past two years. And the fact that we’re standing here right now celebrating that win says a lot about the record . . . If you want to be strong, independent, and engaged state parties, you don’t need a top-down RNC. Because I’m not a top-down person, as you know. You need more of the same from the bottom up, expansion and opportunity. As national chairman, that is my commitment, not my promise. The record that we have laid out for you speaks for itself. We can do more, and we will do better.”

  • I will be surprised if neither of the women running, Maria Cino and Ann Wagner, end up among the final two candidates. Cino emphasized her experience with the RNC and other Republican organizations and causes over the past 30 years, which was probably a bad answer for the grassroots conservative activists watching, but a reassuring argument to the RNC members who will actually make the decision. “I’ve turned around a national committee that was in debt,” she emphasized in her closing statement. “On January 15, I walk into the RNC with no on-the-job training necessary, because I’ve already done this job.”

  • Wagner is arguably the most polished candidate, and her answers blended personal details — like her laugh-inducing comment that she’s been married “faithfully, and I guess, happily” — with discussions of what the RNC must do, including a complete 50-state plan due April 1 and a new early-voting strategy.

  • If the voting goes through many rounds, and the RNC membership is deeply divided, it’s possible Saul Anuzis becomes a consensus candidate. He seemed at ease with every question, and capable of emphasizing his conservative beliefs in a manner that didn’t seem too confrontational or antagonistic. Everyone seems to like and respect him, although some worry that his time running the Michigan GOP showcased no big wins. He clearly understands the importance of fund-raising, but can he do it?

  • At one point, Reince Priebus used the word “grown-up,” which is probably a misstep if you look like the youngest candidate on the stage. More than a few found him a little off at first, but he has a phenomenal record in Wisconsin to point to . . . which he did, time and again. Later Grover Norquist joked that Reince Priebus is the candidate glad that this isn’t a write-in campaign.

Many folks asked me afterward who won. It’s a tough call . . . I think Grover Norquist and Tucker Carlson were neck-and-neck.

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