None of the candidates who seek this weekend to replace Michael Steele as chairman of the Republican National Committee are household names. Reince Priebus is the chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party, Saul Anuzis is the forrmer chair of the Michigan GOP, Ann Wagner is a former ambassador of Luxembourg, and Maria Cino is a former senior official in the George W. Bush administration.
Whichever one emerges as chair will almost certainly define their first tasks as the repair devastated morale at the RNC and the rehabilitation of the donor rolls and the party's operations.
The most important job of the new chair will not be those mundane but crucial tasks, however, but rather to stay away from the spotlight and leave the news cycle over the next nine months to Speaker Boehner and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell. This is especially important over the next two months. The new GOP chair will have the right to remain silent on the budget debate that is about to begin. We have to hope he or she will use it.
This is also the task before every would-be GOP presidential candidate and nearly every GOP senator and representative as well. The crucial agenda for the next nine months is the Congressional agenda, and since the House goes first on matters of budget and since the Republicans have a huge majority there, the necessary discipline that is required from all conservatives in and outside of the Congress is to support the Speaker's effort to frame the unfolding debate over the size and direction of government.
The House GOP gathers in Baltimore this weekend, and it it will return from there to D.C. next week to vote the repeal of Obamacare and to begin the oversight of the Obama Adminsitration that has been completely lacking for two years. At the top of the latter agenda is the overdue effort to cabin the Environmental Protection Agency before its diktats on cap-and-tax begin to power down the struggling recovery. As the House GOP awaits the president's budget its most pressing tasks will be these oversight hearings and those hearings will help set the stage for the budget and the big argument over job growth. Each of these hearings will be heavily covered, and responsibility in the execution of the oversight will be a key ingrediant to the success of the effort. Wild charges or fabricated evidence will boomerang, and there is no need for any histrionics as the record of Team Obama is so dismal to begin with. As oversight begins, the task of every Committee and subcommittee chair will be to let the Obama Adminsitration officials talk. And talk. And talk. Pose the right questions --"Exactly where was the stimulus spent?"-- and the debate will unfold exactly as it needs to.
After the president's budget arrives and the State of the Union address is given, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and his colleagues will take the center stage and will have to fashion, announce and defend deep, deep cuts in federal spending. As the howls from the left will be high-pitched and long no matter what is proposed, there is no sense in going half way, and Ryan knows this and is prepared to carve away at the mass of subsidies that has flowed out of D.C. over the past four years of Nancy Pelosi's rule. The House GOP gets one chance at laying out its budget, and one chance to make the case for the massive downsizing that the international credit markets are waiting for. The difficulty in making this argument is that the Democrats know this will be their best chance to define the debate and with it Speaker Boehner's agenda, and thus the House GOP leadership has to impress on all of its members this weekend that the dumbest thing any of them says in the next four-to-eight weeks will be grabbed by the Democrats and the allied MSM and used to define the entire GOP and the budget debate. Each House member, in effect, holds the ability to destroy the messaging about the budget debate, and the message in Baltimore ought to be that if any member does so, he or she will be stripped of future position and authority in the caucus.
There is an elected House GOP leadership, which includes besides Boehner and Ryan, Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, Jeb Henserling, Pete Sessions, Michelle Bachmann and Tom Price. When the debate over the budget begins in earnest, the plan laid out has to be defended by these voices, and primarily by Cantor and Ryan. The new RNC chair and the would-be GOP presidential nominees have to stand back and back them up, as do the GOP senators and the rest of the House caucus. If any "free agents" show up with any excuse to divert attention from the big debate, the effort to focus and execute the agenda will be compromised.
The president can and will use surrogates to try and blow holes in the GOP's budget, and the president's numerous allies in the networks and among the newspapers will provide him every assistance even as they did in the campaign of 2008 and throughout the debate over the stimulus and Obamacare.
The GOP from top to bottom has to realize that in order to win the argument they have to stay on their message and not be diverted from the key facts and the central proposals in the House GOP budget.
The debate will take many weeks, and even after the Budget Committee and then the full House passes the budget, it will then pass to the Appropriations Committee to live within the caps set, and to the Senate to respond to the House budget.
But the next few weeks will decide whether the public buys into lay the GOP's arguments over the future. To do that the public must first hear and then understand those arguments.
This requires repititon and more repitition. It especially requires clarity and discipline in the messaging. The Speaker and the senior leadership have to be available to all media and especially to those outlets which have a multiplier effect, and their surrogates have to stay on message as well.
The new GOP chair and the would-be presidential nominees will not vanish from the headlines and they should not go into hiding, but they can and should for a season take their cues from the House GOP budget and support it or remain silent. The very worst thing that could happen would be for some high-profile Republican to seek to grab some media leverage via an opportunistic attack on that budget.
Speaker Boehner has made it clear that the 112th Congress will not be a replay of the rule-of-one that defined the Pelosi years. Hopefully his colleagues will return that respect by allowing him and his lieutenants the chance to propose and pass a budget that returns America to a path of fiscal responsibility.