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Indecision Roils RNC Race

UPDATED, 12:22 p.m. ET: Florida Republican Party Chairman Frank Greer will endorse former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele's bid for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee this afternoon.

Greer was mulling a candidacy of his own but has decided to stay out of the race and lend his support to Steele who is considered one of the frontrunners for the post.

Original Post

Nearly two months after Republicans were dealt their second straight beatdown at the ballot box, the race to become the next public face of the Grand Old Party has grown increasingly fractious and unpredictable -- stoking fears among insiders that the first major movement of 2009 will be a misstep.

Take this week for example. On Monday Americans for Tax Reform -- Grover Norquist's group -- held a debate between the six candidates that left even advocates of the candidates rolling their eyes as each man sought to one up their rivals as to who owned more guns and who loved former President Ronald Reagan more.

On Tuesday a conservative steering committee -- led by anti-abortion advocate Jim Bopp Jr. -- convened a teleconference aimed at reasserting the need for the next RNC Chair to adhere to the party's conservative principles. And, today the RNC will hold a "special meeting" in Washington in which each of the candidates will have the opportunity to make his case.

The series of meetings comes on the heels of a controversy over the holidays surrounding Chip Saltsman, a RNC candidate and former chairman of the Tennessee Republican party, and his decision to send out a CD to supporters containing a song called "Barack the Magic Negro".

The overall message? Chaos.

"The party is teetering on the edge of complete anarchy," said one senior Republican strategist. The source added that the race to date has "divided a party that desperately needs to add not subtract."

Such is the level of indecision surrounding the pick that even now -- with just three weeks before the 168-member RNC gathers in Washington to pick a new leader there are several unannounced candidates whose names are being floated as potential alternative picks.

Florida Republican party Chairman Jim Greer, for example, after seemingly taking a pass on the race late last year, has re-inserted himself in the mix -- insisting that he may run after all. Greer is expected to make an announcement today, and appeared to be leaning toward the race. It's not clear whether he will be able to gain any traction.

Others are pushing a candidacy by Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) although the incumbent, who currently trails entertainer Al Franken by 225 votes, appears much more interested in pursuing an election contest than running for RNC Chair.

Below is our latest handicapping of the contest with the candidates ranked from most to least likely to claim the chairmanship on Jan. 28. But, given the uncertainty in the field and the fact that this is a decision made by just 168 people and is almost certain to be decided after a series of secret ballots, caution is the operative word.

1. Mike Duncan: Duncan, the current RNC chair, is regarded as the frontrunner in the contest for one simple reason: he is seen by the members of the committee as one of them. For the past eight years, the RNC membership has had their chairman foisted upon them by President George W. Bush. Now that they get a pick of their own, they want it to be someone they know, like and trust. Duncan's problem? If he doesn't get the 85 votes he needs (or close to it) on the first ballot, he could struggle to maintain momentum.

2. Michael Steele: If Duncan is the consensus frontrunner, Steele is widely regarded as his most serious challenger. Steele is running as the insider's candidate (he is being counseled by several former RNC senior officials including Curt Anderson and Blaise Hazelwood) but with an outsider message: new faces are needed to shake up a stolid party. Steele performed the best of the candidates at Monday's debate (it was a low bar) and is clearly the best communicator in the group. But, he must find a way to convince RNC members that he is sufficiently conservative in order to build on whatever support he takes on the first ballot.

3. Saul Anuzis: The hard-charging chairman of the Michigan Republican Party has cemented his spot behind Duncan and Steele thanks to significant legwork (The Fix follows Anuzis on Twitter and the guy is ALWAYS on the road) and a slot as the only Midwesterner (Fix slip: Blackwell is from Ohio) in the race. At issue for Anuzis is where he fits in the final reckoning of RNC voters. If they want one of their own then Duncan is more "of" the committee than Anuzis; if they want a figure of national stature then Steele is far better known.

4. Ken Blackwell: Blackwell, the former Ohio Secretary of State, got into the race late but he and his team have moved to rapidly make up ground with an aggressive press effort. Blackwell is, today, the candidate with the most public commitments from RNC members, but insiders -- both those aligned with other candidates and those not -- believe the Ohioan has a ceiling of 25 or so votes. Blackwell is seeking to stake out ground as the most conservative candidate in the field but may have misstepped in rolling out a series of endorsements from national conservative groups that may not sit well with a committee membership that is tired of being dictated to.

5. Katon Dawson: Dawson, the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, got into the race believing that he could be the candidate to unify the southern bloc and, in doing so, claim the chairmanship. It was sound logic at the time but there now that there are several southerners (Duncan, Saltsman) in the field and there seems to be reluctance to choose a southerner as the face of the party, Dawson's logic makes less sense.

6. Chip Saltsman: There's little question that Saltsman was building momentum before the "Magic Negro" thing happened. We don't buy the logic that the controversy helped Saltsman in some Machiavellian way and have heard that his support has gone south in the wake of the incident. While the "Magic Negro" song may have sunk Saltsman's candidacy, the Fix knows Chip personally and can testify that he is the furthest thing from racist.

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 7, 2009; 6:15 AM ET
Categories:  Republican Party  
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Next: Burris To Be Seated?


"the Fix knows Chip [Saltsman] personally and can testify that he is the furthest thing from racist."

Well, Chris, that's very nice of you. But, no offense intended, aren't you an expert (knowledgeable/experienced) in politics?

I didn't know that you were also an expert in race relations and psychological motivations.

Let's see now, have you met Vladmir Putin?
Can you look into his soul?

While one may rationally conclude that:
1. Chris Czilla has met Chip Saltsman,
2. Chris Czilla is willing to say that Chip Saltsam is not a racist
an objective, open-minded reader can conclude no more than that.

BOTTOM LINE: to judge Chip Saltsman's behavior we must look only to Chip Saltsman's behavior. Not what anyone else says about Chip Saltsman. (Sorry Chris!)

Personally, [full disclosure, I am a white, male, 47-year-old democrat] I think the "magic negro" song was both monumentally stupid and offensive. But let's be honest, ANYONE can make a really stupid mistake. What challenges the "I'm really not a racist" interpretation is that (to my understanding) Mr. Saltsman has not said anything like "I'm sorry, I didn't realize how others would be so offended by this." Instead (to my knowledge) he said something to the effect "Jeez, these people just can't take a joke."

One might finesse the whole matter and conclude that Saltsman is simply dense. But in these times, the inability to recognize that your actions can offend other people in ways that your personally simply do not understand converts stupidity into racism even if you don't have any blatantly obviously racist convictions.

Times have changed. We must insist that "Barack the Magic Negro" is as inappropriate a characterization as "Chip the Red-Necked Cracker"

Posted by: TBadonsky | January 7, 2009 11:17 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: iamkayo | January 7, 2009 7:55 PM | Report abuse

As a once "AC/DC" voter, over my nearly 60 years experience as a member of our national electorate, I've but one thought of caution to offer those now gloating over the discomforts of the "minority" party: Don't get too self-satisfied!
A basic, fundamental flaw in contemporary Repug mindsets, is that they persist in pandering to "least common denominator" members of our electorate. The earlier (mid-20th Century) "States' Rights & Dixiecrat" movements set them in motion down this slippery slope; with the self-defeating credo that they'd rather "be R/right than in power".
To refresh some memories: Dem's similarly suffered: From many years on the "outside" &/or sloppily lost opportunities to win - in both National & State/Local elections - because their "Left-wing" decided that being politically "pragmatic" &/or showing any willingness to negotiate & compromise was a "cop out". They never bothered to learn the basic axiom of PoliSci 101: “Politics is the ‘art of the possible’”.
They also formed "splinter" parties (most of which were lucky to get enough votes to qualify for getting on the ballot!) &/or intra-party factions.
The whole phenomenon of the 18-30 age group demographics’ lowest of all voting group's participation, can be directly traced to this splintering; which made it all too easy to do their own "copping out", with such tired explanations as "politics isn't 'relevant' to me.

Those generations have now inherited the horrendous fiscal liability results of the combined incompetency of those they allowed to gain power AS DIRECT RESULTS OF THEIR OWN DERELICTIONS (e.g., failure to vote!).
Even this last election - reflecting some marginal improvements in "youth" involvement - wound up showing only a couple percentage points improvement in actual vote casting. Had there NOT been the fiscal "meltdown" to help the Dem's, that factor could have - again, for the 3rd successive Presidential election - proved critical to a loss to still more losers.

The Repug's now seem determined/destined to take over the Dem's long held role as our nation's "Political Lemmings". So be it: As it is - & like it was for the Dem's - the only way they'll learn.
Then maybe, just maybe - & hopefully within our highly motivated "Sr. Voters'" demographic lifetimes - we'll see a return to electing Political "States-men/women", with both adequate & experience to properly carry out their duties, & with allegiances/sense of obligation to none other than those who voted them in. It's called "political maturation", and every party needs to go through it periodically.
When the Repug's finally wake up to the fact that their modern day Lincoln Idol/icon "Ronnie Babe" had feet of clay, they may then be ready to confront and deal with this need. Meanwhile, Demo's, I reiterate what I opened this posting with: Don't get too self-satisfied, we've still got of lot more of that "political maturation" stuff to deal with ourselves!

Posted by: seamusb32 | January 7, 2009 5:39 PM | Report abuse

Chris, we usually always respect your opinions whether in print or when you're speaking on one or another cable-cast. BUT . . . with all due respect, when someone sends out a DVD titled "Barack the Magic Negro", that person (nice as you may find him on every level) IS A RACIST.

The conclusion has to be that our admirable friend Chris is also a racist, and the same way he fails to recognize it in Mr. Saltzman, he doesn't see it in himself, either.

How sad that in 2009 we still face prominent people who don't recognize racism when it's flung in their faces!

Posted by: danjanbee | January 7, 2009 4:03 PM | Report abuse

You know what really makes me angry and other people of color angry is when the FIX says's Saltsman's not a racist who the hell are you the Great Kreskin? Do you know whats truly in this mans heart? you read minds? If it Quacks it's a duck!!

Posted by: greenmean | January 7, 2009 3:51 PM | Report abuse

This is hysterical. The Republicants are proving, without a shred of doubt, that they desire to be the party of over 50 wealthy, white people ONLY.

Have fun at your club, kiddies. And don't forget to pay your increased taxes. You deserve it !!!!!

Posted by: icewiz2000 | January 7, 2009 2:43 PM | Report abuse

It's the height of entertainment to watch the GOPers rush to the Right, like the passengers on a capsizing ship. They all want to prove they're Just Like Reagan, their new god. Of course, the Reagan they worship isn't the one who was actually there, but that's the beauty of faith -- it frees you from the bondage of facts.

And let's cut lingo009 a little slack here. lingo's post is the most thoughtful one here today. A Reagan Republican who recognizes the present-day perversion of the GOP into an American Hezbollah, admits to it, and urges that the trend be reversed, is not someone we should be smacking around. This is someone we should be thanking and encouraging, for being honest and contemplative about the direction the Party has taken, and doing so from the inside.

After years of demonstrating a Bush-like pathological inability to admit error or take responsilibility for failure, the GOP needs a lot MORE of lingo's truthfulness, if it has any hope of being more than a refuge for ranting Know-Nothings......

Posted by: WaitingForGodot | January 7, 2009 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Happy New Year Chris.

It's so good to see the GOP continue it's spin down the toilet. I thought that they'd do a bit of soul searching, then I remembered, they have no soul.

My choice for them? Please Please pick Sarah 'Moose Hunter' Palin.

Posted by: PatrickNYC1 | January 7, 2009 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, Saltsman's no racist.

All we really have to go by is when someone does racist actions -- like sending out a song called "Magic Negro."

But yeah, if you say Chip's no racist, then he's no racist.

Near as I can tell, no one's a racist.

Posted by: mypitts2 | January 7, 2009 12:34 PM | Report abuse

For the Republican Party to move forward, the choice to head the RNC absolutely HAS to commit to three things:

1) A party platform specifically based on ethical capitalism and compassionate conservativism. Currently, all non-Republicans and many Republicans view the party as a bunch of ruthless capitalists and rigid fundamentalists trying to run roughshod over the rest of the country.
2) Fielding the very best candidates possible. George Bush and Dick Cheney? John McCain and Sarah Palin? Please! If the party can't do any better than this, it deserves to lose.
3) A strong commitment to fixing the multitude of problems in our country, even if this means working with the Democrats or making them look good.

In other words, the party needs capable and inspiring leadership; clear goals that are beneficial to ALL Americans; and dedication to achieving those goals.

Posted by: SB52 | January 7, 2009 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Because all the problems with the GOP that you enumerate stem from the OldDrooler...and you are among the guilty that elevated him FAR beyond his capabilities and thus you are responsible for much of America's failings today.

Posted by: kase | January 7, 2009 12:08 PM | Report abuse

How have you atoned for your time as a "Reaganite"?

Posted by: kase | January 7, 2009 12:04 PM | Report abuse

Interesting development in the Burris appointment....

According to Fox, so perhaps wait for confirmation from other sources, there may be some conflicts of interest between Burris's lobbying firm & Blago. Not quite a smoking gun, but certainly enough to demand more info than has been forthcoming thus far: reports that Burris -- the former Illinois attorney general who has been appointed by Blagojevich to fill President-elect Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat -- held a 2006 fundraiser for the governor at his home.

Burris and his lobbying firm also donated $22,295 to Blagojevich's campaign, according to

Over the past four years, Burris' lobbying firm reportedly won $705,435 in state contracts.

Posted by: bsimon1 | January 7, 2009 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Republicans- Many of you keep saying - Reagan. I hear you. I used to be a 'Reaganite'. But listen. Reagan was wrong. Reagan is the reason for the current collapse of the GOP. It's been years coming since the 80's. The fact is, Reagan courted the extremist in order to get elected. After 30's years of elbowing their way in, the extremist are mostly in charge without being able to get along. It's enevitable. An extremist's pschological foundation is moored to a narrow alleyway that will not broaden. The GOP has become a series of narrow allyeyways. Some run parraell. Some intersect. Some of these alley's are on the opposite sides of town. (I.E.) A self proclaimed Republican on this very bulletin used the term RINO. (Republican In Name Only) A curious phrase which really holds no definite meaning. It can mean countless things despite whichever republican uses it. But ultimately, it's a phrase that basically says - 'If you don't agree with me 100%, you're out!" This is precisely the problem. Pretty basic, but true.

Traditionally, the core of the Republican party has been about money and the betterment of society as it grows via a sustainable market with minimal government intrusion along the way. (Has never really happened but it's the core of the GOP belief.) Regardless, the Republican party has now at it's core- The policing of sexuality. The policing of patriotism. The policing of science. The policing of family structure. The policing of culture.

With so many extremist in charge, the future of this party doesn't look healthy. Looking to the past is not the answer. History and progress are as though two forces pushing out from the center in opposite directions. Progress and the future is the only way to look. Perhaps for both parties, the future will be a new economic model based on valuing things other than products and goods and services. Hard to conceive, but we may be headed in such an evolutionary direction out of sheer necessity of human survival. It's time we all do some serious, sensitive, and thorough thinking in America.

Posted by: lingo009 | January 7, 2009 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Saltsman: A racist? Ok, I'll take TheFix's word that he's not. But insensitive and utterly foolish? Very much so.

Posted by: meshugaman11 | January 7, 2009 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Now the Libs are willing to let the scandel ridden Illinois members run roughshod over the spineless one.

What a bunch of clowns.

Posted by: king_of_zouk | January 7, 2009 11:02 AM | Report abuse

This is SO wonderful.
I'm typing thru tears of joy and relief...

It IS bad for the KnuckleDraggers but they richly deserve it.

Can't wait for the ritual suicides!
go to ronnie...
go to ronnie...
go to ronnie...

Posted by: kase | January 7, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

well, if saltsman isn't a racist, he's pandering to the racist sectors of his party with a type of public discourse the voters rejected in this election. he shouldn't win the chairmanship simply because he showed his cards on the strategy he wants to pursue for the RNC. it's not a winning one; it's a bigoted one, regardless of his personal views.

Posted by: plathman | January 7, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

I understand that you know Chip Saltsman better than I do, but how is trying to gain support within the more anti-African American elements of the Republican party not the same as being personally racist, if not worse? This reminds me of Lee Atwater's involvement in the Willie Horton add, and how his supports defended him as not being racist. It does not matter how much he loved playing the blues or how he had African Americans in his blues band, what he did had the effect of turning back the clock on race relations for his party's political benefit.

Posted by: jameshauser | January 7, 2009 10:30 AM | Report abuse

scorbett1976 writes
"If one isn't proud enough of his party or his affiliation with the party to run with the party name, I can't see how one can be effectively claim two years later to be the man to run said party."

On the contrary, if someone thinks the party has been on the wrong track in recent years, then selecting someone who wants to redirect the party's efforts is exactly what they need. Of course, the people who will decide on the leadership don't seem to think the party's been on the wrong track - they think McCain lost because he wasn't conservative enough.

Posted by: bsimon1 | January 7, 2009 10:28 AM | Report abuse

The Fix writes
""The party is teetering on the edge of complete anarchy," said one senior Republican strategist."

Pardon the self-congratulatory tone, but some of us saw this coming 2 years ago. The true believers were still talking about a permanent Republican majority. So much for that theory!

Regarding Coleman's potential candidacy for the RNC top job: on the one hand, he should take whatever job he can get because his odds are long in overturning the MN election. On the other hand, he can't lead his way out of a wet paper bag, so the RNC would do well to select someone else.

Posted by: bsimon1 | January 7, 2009 10:24 AM | Report abuse

Really Chris, so you don't think Chip is a racist. Perhaps being a white male doesn't really give you the life experiences to recognize racism. When I had a debate about same sex marriage going in our local paper, I pointed out that most white males did not experience discrimination, whereas women and visible minorities, no matter of their social status, encounter it almost daily. A 62 year old white man wrote back saying I was right, he hadn't thought about discrimination very much because he didn't see it happening unless it was pointed out to him. My white 55 year old husband also agreed. So go ahead and cling to the thought that your friend Chip isn't a racist. If he's not racist, I guess that would mean that he's ignorant, insensitive and incredibly stupid for putting out such an outrageous CD.

Posted by: katem1 | January 7, 2009 10:17 AM | Report abuse

What a mess. Every single candidate is deeply flawed - either electorally, ideologically, or in terms of public relations.

Posted by: Venicemenace | January 7, 2009 10:08 AM | Report abuse

Elect Saltsman, maybe he'll wear his hood at his first press conference.

Posted by: hairguy01 | January 7, 2009 10:08 AM | Report abuse

I really have to laugh at these clowns. They all represent what is wrong with the R party. There is not a genuine reformer among them. They need to reread Einstein's definition of insanity. Also, Ronald Reagan started the downfall of the R party with his "trickle-down" economic message, which is still embraced by the Rs even though it didn't work for Reagan and hasn't work since. For the record - if there is no strong middle class, there is no economy. Try to grasp this in your greedy little minds.

Posted by: msdillo | January 7, 2009 9:35 AM | Report abuse

Obviously Chip Saltsmann isn't "the furthest thing from racist." Perhaps he hasn't been fitted for a hood yet, but he sure makes noise like he's been to a meeting or two.

Posted by: turkishd | January 7, 2009 8:44 AM | Report abuse

It's really odd to me that former Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele is really a viable candidate to head the RNC.

It was only in 2006, when he was running for the Senate, that I ran into him and and his campaign workers outside the Greenbelt Metro Station, where, when I noted to the workers, that none of his material said he was a Republican, they all replied "It doesn't matter whether he's a Republican or a Democrat."

Two years ago he was running away from the Republican brand, away from the label, away from the (R) after his name. Because "it didn't matter" as his workers said within earshot. And now he wants to run the party?

If one isn't proud enough of his party or his affiliation with the party to run with the party name, I can't see how one can be effectively claim two years later to be the man to run said party.

Posted by: | January 7, 2009 8:35 AM | Report abuse

They are certainly operating like headless chickens and will continue to do so. They've lost whatever direction they may have had since negative campaigning was given the heave-ho in the last election. One can't build a party on continually saying no or throwing mud... And they don't seem to understand this....

Posted by: RickJ | January 7, 2009 8:11 AM | Report abuse

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