RNC Chair Debate - Best in Show Posted by: Bryan Pick
on Monday, January 05, 2009
I just went to the RNC Chair Debate with Jon, and here are my impressions.
I wasn't terribly familiar with all of these guys ahead of time, although I sat with Saul Anuzis at an American Spectator breakfast recently. So with only a short briefing about each man's apparent flaws and viability as a candidate, I came with a pretty open mind.
As I see it, there are three bare necessities for reforming an organization: the perception to diagnose the problem, the brains to optimize solutions, and the courage to pursue the necessary means of those solutions.
So first, I wanted the candidates to show that they understood how the Republican Party got into this mess.
Second, I wanted to hear how they planned to rejuvenate the party. I believe the RNC's role is mostly seeding new membership from the bottom up, and secondarily enforcing some discipline to keep everyone moving in the right direction — tipping the balance of critical races should be an outgrowth of their primary role.
And third, I wanted to see evidence that they had a good understanding of the role of new media and new technology.
I gave bonus points to those who could approach these issues in a no-nonsense way that showed they were ready to break with the recent past of the GOP and that showed they were grounded enough in their opinions to discuss them openly and earnestly, no reservations.
Truth be told, I agree with Jon that there was more noise than signal, but from what I heard, I think Blackwell had the best showing, followed closely by Steele. Saltsman made it to third thanks to his comments about open technology, and if I absolutely had to order the rest, it would be a tie between Anuzis and Dawson, with Duncan coming last. I might have been docking points unconsciously for Duncan's failure to turn the party around for '06 and '08.
What did Blackwell and Steele do to earn such high marks? They were openly critical of the party as it has been recently run, and they articulated the reasons for their dissatisfaction with verve.
They also both explicitly recognized the necessity of going down to the local and state levels, all over the country, and pushing out the power and responsibility.
Saltsman seemed to understand these things about as well, but he was not as convincing all around. He made some good points about the proper pursuit of new technology.
Dawson was fairly earnest and a good sport, but he was also timid about calling out the GOP, and didn't do much to inspire me that he was going to aggressively bring much-needed change to the party. Anuzis was... I don't know. He didn't stand out. He was slightly handicapped by a faulty microphone — that problem should have been fixed immediately (always, always have a backup microphone at the ready).
Duncan did not inspire confidence that he would turn the RNC around after the last two cycles. I understand he was in a difficult position, but that made this the perfect time to take his lumps, explain where things really went wrong, admit where some things could be improved, and generally show a superior understanding of the inner workings of the RNC. He did not take that opportunity, so he never gave himself the chance to bounce back and show that he could bring some initiative to reforming the party.
I didn't get the sense that any of these men are perfect for the job. Even for Blackwell and Steele, doubts remain about their ability to execute and their deeper understanding of how to integrate new technology/media into the party strategy. And I don't think the party is such a massive ship to turn around that nobody can do it. This is an extremely important position for the next two to four years (hence the packed ballroom, with quite a few in the audience having to stand in the back), so may the most competent man win.
By the way, among such trivial matters as how many guns each candidate owned and who their favorite Republican president was, one question of negligible consequence was how many Twitter followers they had.