Friday, January 30, 2009

STEELE TRAP. I have to say that, quite apart from its race-barrier-breaking, the election of Michael Steele to chair the Republican National Committee is the smartest thing the GOP has done in years. During last year's primaries he was one of the most eloquent and least insane party spokesmen I saw on television. I saw him less frequently during the McCain campaign, which may have just been my inattention, or the GOP's stupidity, or else it is further proof that he's not crazy. He does have a wacky side, but is probably smart enough to keep it in check now that he's not running for anything. Even the GOP's lunatic fringe seems comfortable with Steele (though he wasn't their first choice), and what they don't like about him other people will.

The question is: what will this change? It does put a charismatic face on the obstructionist policies of Republican officials. This hasn't been a role for the RNC chairman for some time, but Steele might encourage it -- I doubt he'll want to leave this job as the pinnacle of his career -- and the elders may recognize that Boehner and McConnell can't do nearly as well. This increases their chances of being listened to, which they badly need.

If they go this way, it changes something else. Heretofore there's been a lot of talk about the Republicans being in a laboratory phase, whereby different figures in their political wilderness would try different approaches and thus develop a new indentity and leadership for the party. (You see some of this in The Next Right's two posts called, "We Don't Need a Chairman. We Need Leaders.") Giving Steele a big public role would give the Republican Party as it is a stronger, coherent voice -- and would lock it into association with its current bunch of national political leaders. There'll be less opportunity for anyone to come out of the wilderness and take over. Howard Dean retreated from the personal political advantages he'd gained in 2004 to rebuild the party apparatus. Do you see Steele doing that?

Thus the Republican Party may, so to speak and in keeping the times, be nationalized, which would probably mean a long steady lift for a central-committee-approved candidate like Sarah Palin and less chance for anyone else. Given the uncharted territory the country's in, it might just work. But if it fails it will leave the Republicans right back where they started.

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