Published January 29, 2009
Thu, 29 Jan 2009 22:15:55 +0000 – The Republican elders have assembled to anoint the new face of the Republican Party, four blocks from President Obama's White House. Their selection will be a tell tale sign of just how bad the wilderness is going to be for the GOP.
Exit polls from the presidential election reminded those of us who are Republicans what we already knew--that there is an embarrassing and un-American diversity gap in the party when it comes to minorities -- especially when it comes to Latino and African American voters.
Count me as one young Republican encouraging our party elders to elevate Michael Steele to be the next RNC Chair.Electing a black man to lead the Republican party is no quick fix, but it's certainly a start. Michael Steele, who as GOPAC chair for the last two years served as a de-facto Republican national spokesperson, has espoused his big tent vision of the party on television more than any of his contenders.
As the first African-American elected to statewide office in Maryland, Steele demonstrated his ability to articulate conservative principles and win in a Democratic state. Had he chosen to run for Senate in any year before 2006, the first year of Republican's multi-cycle electoral whipping, Senator Steele would be happily ensconced in the United States Senate. Ken Blackwell, the other African American contender for the seat, may be a good pick, but simply can't rival Steele's experience speaking for the party or reaching beyond its social conservative coalition.
By contrast, Chip Saltzman whose tone deafness was demonstrated by clumsily gifting the song "Barack the Magic Negro" to Republican State Chairs over the holidays, would be a miss. Katon Dawson, who has worked to integrate South Carolina's GOP, still has the smudge of having resigned from an all white club. As we rebuild the party, the last thing Republicans should want is to do is start out on the defensive.
Republican renewal will ultimately not come from Washington or the RNC chairmanship. As in the past, it will emerge from the select group of Republican governors-- perhaps one yet unelected. But for the interim leadership vacuum, it's critical that Republicans consider seriously the party's diversity weakness. As America continues to strive towards Dr. Martin Luther King's vision of a country where race is irrelevant, the outpouring in Washington D.C. last week reminded us that we aren't there yet.
Symbolism matters just as much as competence and Republicans would do us all a favor by electing a Chair who has proven record of making strides toward untraditional Republican constituencies. Count me as one young Republican encouraging our party elders to elevate Michael Steele to be the next RNC Chair.