There is a cyclone of analysis happening in the aftermath of the 2008 elections as to the status of the Republican Party. The old strategy of low taxes and small government is being crucified as a message that no longer excites voters. That is flat wrong. The party’s problems are more with the messengers than with the message.
While it’s possible to commend President Bush for a job well done in certain aspects, it is very difficult to say he has been a good communicator. Senator McCain was certainly no match for Senator Obama. Republicans now need to install new leaders in Congress who can convey a clear message. Additionally, the new chair of the Republican National Committee (RNC) has to be more than a technician. That person must be a skilled communicator. The clear choice is Michael Steele.
I first met Mr. Steele during his bid to the U.S. Senate (Maryland) in 2006. Seven minutes into our breakfast, I abruptly stopped him. I made the point that he was an outstanding candidate. This was because he was able to plainly and clearly enunciate policies that Republicans believe in and do it with a positive tone. Usually when meeting a politician, one can discover communication skills in short order. Mr. Steele has an innate, unpretentious appeal that the new party leader must display. Some might call it charisma – the point is he is just plain likeable. If you disagree with what he says, you will still come away with positive feelings about the message.
More importantly, he knows how to run a political organization. He has done so in the state of Maryland at the county level and as State Chairman. His successful organization of Maryland allowed Republicans to win the Governorship for the first time in forty years. He knows how to win in a blue state which is an asset necessary in the party’s national chairman.
Mr. Steele understands that a fifty-state operation must exist where candidates are recruited that can win in the districts in which they are running. Not every candidate will be ideologically pure, but they will support the core Republican principles and help to put Republicans in seats of power. You get those strong local candidates by building at the city council, school district and state assembly level. Those are the building blocks of a winning party. The Republicans may have taken a pummeling on the national level in 2008, but the losses at state levels were relatively low, and there were some strong victories in certain states. The national leadership needs to draw from that bench to enlist the best candidates to make significant inroads in the House and Senate in 2010 which should be a favorable year for Republicans.
Republicans need a tailored message created that takes into account the new methods of delivery. Republicans are expert on mail, phone banking and GOTV. What clearly needs to be enhanced relates to the internet and smart phones. Mr. Steele has a plan to not just imitate the success of the Obama campaign, but to improve upon its results. When people are becoming more reliant on those means of receiving messages, we need to approach them where they are looking.
More than anything Michael Steele delivers a message. Republicans have ceded issues important to middle America not because they have the wrong solutions, but because they have not clearly articulated their goals.
Health care, education and the environment/energy are winning issues for Republicans. The reasons Republicans have been losing on those issues are twofold. First, they have been too focused on other issues -- important ones -- but not the only ones. Second, the solutions they have for these other issues have been muddled by the messengers.
Putting a technician in charge of the RNC at this time could set the Republican’s cause back more than it appears on the surface. They need to be able to deliver a coherent message of solutions that can counter the Obama Administration when it goes astray from the desires of mainstream America. Other candidates may be able to organize effectively, but the press will be looking to the RNC Chair for answers when Republicans do not have a sitting president or majority leader. They need a telegenic communicator to counter any Obama policy mishaps.
The Republicans appear to be unwisely retaining the minority leader of the House though the remainder of the leadership team appears headed for a revamping. A strong messenger as the RNC Chair is all the more important as the one who can be effective as our focal point for the press.
That fresh face can be someone who blends into the wallpaper; or it can be Michael Steele. Mr. Steele, through his talents and communication skills, will begin us back on the road to elected leadership of this country.