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The Role of the RNC Chair
Posted by: Bryan Pick on Monday, January 05, 2009

Here's the extended comment I left at The Next Right in response to Mindy Finn's question of the appropriate role(s) of the RNC Chair:


Private fundraising, both directly from candidates and from third-party (not "Libertarian" third party, but "MoveOn" third-party) groups, should start to take precedence over centralized party funds for individual races.  If a critical race needs to be tipped one way or the other, the Right needs to have a separate infrastructure in place to get funds to that candidate.  The party should highlight these races, but not spend funds fighting fires close to election day.

The Republican Party, under the leadership of the chairman, should start to identify itself primarily as the facilitator of infrastructure, making sure that the Right has all the institutions it needs to:
  • build local membership,
  • recruit candidates as broadly as possible, so we can challenge the Dems everywhere,
  • pressure Democrats steadily on both policy and personnel,
  • identify winnable races,
  • pick up on new shifts in the political winds (memes that can catch on, new winning issues that can attract at least part-time allies into the coalition, and even demographic changes), and
  • develop new policy ideas (we already have formidable institutions in place for this).
The focus here should be on building from the bottom up, and can most efficiently be done by providing the tools rather than sending in late reinforcements for each campaign (money, manpower, etc.).

So in each and every locale, the local infrastructure's job during elections should be to:
  • alert non-local Republicans to unexpected vulnerabilities that can be exploited with wider attention and more resources,
  • score points against Democrat personnel whenever the opportunity arises (start building the rap sheets now in those blue states, because these victories are cumulative and mutually reinforcing),
  • win if possible, but
  • always be shifting the Overton window toward the Right's ideas and policies, staying somewhat to the Right of even the candidates themselves.  (Candidates, in turn, need to learn to tolerate this pressure, and take advantage of the blazed path when the opposition weakens on an issue.)
The top-down part of the chairman's job is secondary but necessary: rather than try to set a policy agenda himself, he should be trying to manage relationships, as you say, so that the factions can tolerate each other long enough for the movement's intellectuals to shape an agenda around the disparate parts of the coalition.  (It starts with unifying grievances, then familiarity develops between them, so that they know each others' tolerances, leading to stronger coordination.)  The party platform should reflect those developments rather than try to drive them.

Frank Meyer's fusionism gave a unifying rationale for a coalition that could last as long as the Cold War did, and created a framework that defined which internal conflicts could be avoided — i.e., promoting policies that furthered the ends of all factions, and suppressing policy fights in the areas of disagreement.

This avoids the tendency for one dominant faction in the party to grab hold of its favorite value and push it to the detriment (and disgust) of the other factions in the party that it needs to win.

From there, the party/chairman can gently steer candidates who take a few too many liberties with the Republican platform (more liberties than they need to take to win) by alerting the existing infrastructure in those locales to tug harder back in the direction of the party's overarching agenda.

Any fundraising the chairman/party does, whether the party's in power or not, should be directed toward those ends (infrastructure for bottom-up, shaping the coalition from the top-down).  If candidates want an infusion of funds, they need to do something that excites the movement — get within striking range, bring some fresh ideas to the table, etc.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Sounds like a good description of what the head of the RNC should do. I was going to argue about how the RNC Chairman needs to kick our the old guard, etc. Then I read this part of you post:
rather than try to set a policy agenda himself, he should be trying to manage relationships
You’re correct. We don’t need a policy maker in that particular position, we need someone who can herd cats.

I hope the rest of the RNC can actually give the chairman a good platform from which to operate.
Written By: jjmurphy
"develop new policy ideas"
"long enough for the movement’s intellectuals to shape an agenda around the disparate parts of the coalition"

I guess the old policies/agenda (sometimes called a platform) like fiscal responsibility are finally out. A great relief, I am sure, to the current apparatchiks.
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
You’ve got me all wrong, tim.

I want policies that will work in the current environment, to move the ball in our direction from its current position on the field. Policy does not move independent of politics, and in this country, that means coalition politics.

You’ll notice I also said we should avoid having "one dominant faction in the party to grab hold of its favorite value and push it to the detriment (and disgust) of the other factions in the party that it needs to win." Well, the dominant factions in the Republican Party have pushed policies to the detriment of the small-government crowd, and shot the party in the foot along the way.

You should be much more careful about stuffing words into my mouth.

And considering where the party is right now, do you think mentions of "fiscal responsibility" in the party’s platform have been terribly effective? If you want politicians to behave, you need an active movement, not a party platform.
Written By: Bryan Pick

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