The Campaign Spot

In a Tough Time, GOP Turns to Man of Steele

Michael Steele is the new chairman of the Republican National Committee, winning the final ballot with 91 out of 168 votes.

From some of his victory remarks:

“As a little boy growing up in this town . . . (long pause) This is awesome.”

“To those who stand in difference to us, it’s time for something completely different, and we’re going to bring it to you.”

“We’re going to bring this party to every corner, every boardroom, every street and every community in this country. . . . To those of you who want to obstruct, get ready to get knocked over.”

“To our friends in the Northeast, get ready baby, because it’s time to turn it on. We’re going to do what we always do well, which is win. We’re going to win in the Northeast, and we’re going to keep winning in the South. We’re going to win with a new storm in the Midwest. In the West, we’re gonna lock it down and win there, too.”

There is a sense in the room that Blackwell’s endorsement was a key moment in the competition–and with the nation’s euphoric response to the inauguration of its first African-American president, Blackwell didn’t need to mention race. Everyone in the room understood that angle, and moved beyond it to the qualifications of the remaining candidates.

One who preferred Dawson noted that by the time it got down to the two, it was no longer a contest between two men; it was a contest between an African-American, who had been endorsed by the other African-American in the contest, calling for the GOP to remain “the party of Lincoln,” against the guy whose membership in a country club ensured that his name would always appear in the same sentence as “whites-only charter.” While no member would ever want to say that race was a factor, everyone knew the shorthand message that would be transmitted by a hostile media, eager to paint Republican leaders as hostile to minorities, if Dawson won on the final ballot.

What will Republicans be getting in Steele? Maybe the ideal television presence, a dynamic and energetic speaker who cheerfully brings a Republican message to communities that aren’t always initially receptive. The contrast with Duncan’s seemingly invisible media presence will be clear. But Steele’s bid was hindered by questions about whether he would excel as much at the parts of the job that aren’t in front of the cameras–the day-to-day management and fundraising.

In the coming year, Republicans will learn one way or the other.


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