Yesterday, FreedomWorks and the Conservative Steering Committee brought together four top contenders to potentially replace Michael Steele as head of a cash-strapped RNC.
While the race is presumably wide-open and the event may have little bearing on how it ultimately turns out, there are two very good reasons to suggest the next RNC Chair could be female and the fact that Tea Party activists figured so prominently in yesterday’s event indicates the movement will likely continue to be a player in Republican politics going forward.
“I was encouraged by the responses from some of the candidates yesterday who seemed to understand that the Tea Party movement is not here to be an arm of the GOP, but can function best as an outside force to keep the party on the right track. Today was further validation that the movement is having an impact, and will continue to be a powerful force in the political landscape,” said FreedomWorks president and CEO Matt Kibbe.
As NRO’s Jim Geraghty point out, with more via the Campaign Spot, the RNC’s 168 members, each with their own concerns, will ultimately decide who heads the RNC going into 2012, not some consensus from yesterday’s event. However, the stagecraft around a January election is beginning to shape up. It doesn’t look good for current chair, Michael Steele, though yesterday’s participants were mostly careful to avoid any harsh, direct criticism. Steele seems to genuinely remain well-liked, if perhaps considered not ideally suited for the job.
The discussion on Wednesday suggested a group of GOP leaders who have largely moved beyond questions of identity. They seemed more interested in the actions of the Obama administration and the reaction of the Tea Party. The GOP, as this crop of candidates sees it, is the tool to channel Tea Partiers’ objections, a process that began in 2009, continued and intensified in 2010, and, they hope, will reach full fruition in 2012.
As (Ann) Wagner said, “When my mother could explain the stimulus package and the economic costs of cap-and-trade to me, I knew we were in a world that had been transformed.”
Of the four participants, Wagner seemed to stand out by hitting all the right notes. It was a melody of serving up red meat to the mostly conservative audience, while also displaying the type of experience, polish and sophistication it will take to manage a seemingly struggling RNC, along with an ability to pry big dollars from the types of major donors upon which the RNC traditionally relies. It appeared only Wagner had a coordinated team of supporters working the room throughout the event, ensuring that all participants received a small packet touting her experience and credentials.
If presentation and organization count, Wagner appeared to have at least a slight edge, yesterday. Wagner and the well publicized entry of Maria Cino are two reasons why any next RNC chair could be a woman, though that’s far from a prediction. What is certain is that there’s a race going on, while Steele remains silent. What was heard at yesterday’s event, were the voices of Tea Party-aligned activists either present at the event, or following it closely online.
(Former RNC chair Mike) Duncan shared the stage with three rivals: Ann Wagner, chair of the Missouri GOP and former co-chair of the RNC; Gentry Collins, a former Iowa state-party executive director and, until recently, political director of the RNC under Steele; and Saul Anuzis, a former state-party chair in Michigan who continued to work with the RNC through the past cycle. Twenty RNC members, all aligned with the Republican National Conservative Caucus, were in the audience.