Guy Benson
The long knives will be out to slice and dice current RNC Chairman Michael Steele at today's debate, and if anything, this morning's news cycle will sharpen his challengers' barbs.  Two pieces of unwelcome news have emerged just hours before the six candidates take the stage at the National Press Club, and each one constitutes a body blow to Steele's re-election bid. 

Blow #1 - The RNC is $20 million in debt heading into the new campaign cycle; a historic lake of red ink:

The unreleased official budget of the RNC reveals that the Republican Party's national governing body and premier fundraising apparatus begins the 2011-12 presidential election cycle more than $20 million in the hole.

"A record for any year in the past 30 years," Maria Cino, a candidate for the RNC chairmanship and a former deputy transportation secretary, told The Washington Times.

The budget was approved by RNC Chairman Michael S. Steele's Budget Committee.

The document also reveals that the RNC will enter the 2012 presidential election year at least $10 million in arrears. "That is also unheard of in 30 years for a presidential year — or for that matter, any congressional election year," Ms. Cino said.


As the Washington Times story makes clear, Cino is gunning for Steele's job, so it behooves her to paint as bleak a picture of the status quo as possible, but the numbers do speak for themselves.  It seems committee members are taking notice, which brings us to blow #2:

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele faces an all-but-impossible path to reelection this month, as a majority of the RNC’s 168 members indicate that they will not support the controversial chairman for another term. 

A weeklong canvass of the party’s governing board by POLITICO revealed 88 members who have decided not to vote for Steele, either opting to support one of his opponents or simply ruling out Steele as a choice in the race. 

Fifty-five members, some of whom have endorsed one of Steele’s challengers, have signaled that they will not support the chairman under any circumstances. An additional 33 pledged their support elsewhere.

Republican activist and strategist Liz Mair offers her savvy take on the leadership qualities RNC members should prioritize as they weigh their options.  Take a wild guess what element tops the list:

1. Fundraising chops

Simply put, the RNC's financial requirements are so vast -- and weak fundraising has proved to have such negative effects on the RNC's ability to carry out its operations -- that committee members will treat solid fundraising chops as a litmus test applicable to all candidates for the job of chairman.


Raising major league cash is seen as a vulnerability for Steele, as depicted in the following chart, which I've cited before:



Today's debate commences in roughly 20 minutes (1pm ET).  You can view the event live HERE.

Guy Benson

Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography