Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele says the GOP needs to move forward and build on the stunning successes of the 2010 elections, while those seeking to replace him contend he has left a landscape of crisis and ruin. However, the five candidates for the job agree on one thing: Fundraising is the key to winning back the White House and the Senate in 2012.
The clashing views surfaced Monday during a debate among the candidates for the top RNC post, which included challengers Saul Anuzis, former chairman of the Michigan GOP; Maria Cino, a former RNC staff director and Bush administration official; Reince Priebus, the Wisconsin Republican chairman; and Ann Wagner, a former Missouri GOP chairwoman and U.S. ambassador. Sponsoring the debate were Americans for Tax Reform, news website The Daily Caller, and the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List.
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Wagner set the tone for the 90-minute debate \when she declared during her opening remarks that the RNC has lost credibility, as well as being millions in debt, mismanaged, and beset with distractions and drama. “Ladies and gentlemen, it is time for some tough love at the Republican National Committee,” she said.
Anuzis said, “I think the Republican National Committee is at a moment of crisis.”
However, Steele reminded people of where things were when he took the job and the victories that occurred during his tenure. “When I began this job in 2009, we couldn’t find anyone to say they were Republican, let alone run for one. We couldn’t find people who actually believed that we could do it, that we still had value. Time magazine claimed that we were an endangered species in 2009, not that long ago.”
He then rattled off a list of victories in New Jersey, in Virginia, and Massachusetts in 2009 and early 2010, as well as the November midterms. The opportunity now is to go forward and build on success, he said.
Nonetheless, Steele’s tenure has been pockmarked with criticism over his inability to raise money, his focus on speaking engagements and book writing, and lack of leadership. His challengers sought to keep those shortcomings front and center as the 168 members of the RNC prepare to choose the next chairman Jan. 14.
Steele and all the challengers cited fundraising as the most important task for the RNC. Cino said that the RNC’s fiscal house must be put in order and the fundraising organization rebuilt. Priebus said the next chairman must be prepared to spend five to six hours a day making donor calls.
The candidates took turns defining the criteria for being a Republican and what would disqualify someone.
Wagner said the standard bearer of the Republican Party must believe in what she called the three pillars of conservatism: a fiscal economic side that reins in spending, national defense, and traditional values of the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and support for the Second Amendment.
Anuzis deferred to Ronald Reagan’s view that a Republican is someone who is with us 80 percent of the time.
Cino’s definition pivoted on protecting the family, reducing government waste and spending, and supporting national defense, while Priebus said you may not be a Republican if you’re pro-abortion, pro-stimulus, pro-GM bailout, and pro-AIG.
Steele agreed with those sentiments but drew applause when he added, “But we cannot be a party that sits back with a litmus test and excludes. And the national chairman cannot go into a state and say you’re less Republican than you are therefore I will not talk with you and only talk with you. That is not the Republican Party I joined . . . and it will not be the Republican Party I will lead over the next two years, trust me.”
On other issues, the candidates:
Editor’s note: Michael Steele responds to a Newsmax question about comments he made about his favorite book being Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” and then quoting a line from “A Tale of Two Cities,” the Dickens classic, during Monday’s debate. Watch the exclusive Newsmax video.
- Supported traditional marriage and closed primaries and favored defunding Planned Parenthood.
- Agreed that the GOP lost its way over the past 10 years by supporting spending, debt, and bridges to nowhere. Cino and Anuzis both viewed the past election as a second chance with no guarantees.
- Concurred that the tea party movement has been a great boon to the Republican Party and it must be nurtured.
- Contended that voter fraud is a serious problem that requires marshaling of resources such as poll watchers, lawyers, and funding.
- Agreed that young voters much be engaged, with Anuzis advocating technology as a tool, and Cino and Priebus both advising using rising young GOP stars to reach out.
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