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The Tentacle


April 26, 2010

A Shining Moment or Disaster?

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

My old political affiliation finds itself locked in a struggle. It’s a struggle over definition, philosophy, and purpose.

 

The Grand Old Party needs a plan, yet the planners seem more concerned about private jets and lap dances than they do about grass-roots organizing. Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, a big guy with an even bigger persona, seemed cast to play the starring role in raising the Republican Party profile.

 

He’s hip, funny, looks great in a nice suit and has a million dollar smile. Oh, yeah, and I forgot to mention that he’s black.

 

He was a regular on national and cable news shows before he became chairman of the Republican National Committee. Republicans seemed to fall for him, even if some of his early comments set off alarms with traditional party insiders.

 

Those early alarms seem well-founded now. Mr. Steele suffers from a form of foot-in-mouth disease, and I fear it may be a terminal case at that. Even if you could find it in your heart to forgive a politician for being less capable than they themselves believe (which one isn’t?), you have to question his executive leadership and decision-making ability.

 

The extravagance of the top echelon of DC-based Republican strategists points to the fundamental problem the whole party is having right now. While Mr. Steele and his team are jetting around the country on chartered flights, holing up in 5-star hotels, and being whisked around in limousines, hard-working Americans are painting hand-lettered signs and attending protest rallies to call for a change in how and by whom we’re governed.

 

This should be the GOP’s moment. Right here, right now, the spirit of the original Newt Gingrich Contract for America could be the salve that heals the tax wound fueling the Tea Party movement. Instead, we have a lumbering, lurching national GOP stuffing dollar bills into stripper thongs while every day people struggle to make ends meet.

 

Dumping Michael Steele isn’t really the answer, either. The Democrats would like nothing more than a divided GOP tossing out its national party leadership at the beginning of a mid-term election cycle, especially one where Democratic congressional leadership seems at the height of political tone deafness.

 

House and Senate leaders are about as popular as a nest of fire ants at a Sunday School picnic. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid’s favorability numbers are shrinking faster than manhood in ice water.

 

In rapid succession, President Obama has boldly led us into a national healthcare debate; you remember, the one that gives us all of the bad stuff now and most of the good stuff later, and is soon to embark on a discussion of federal immigration reform. That’ll really help, won’t it?

 

All of this while the nation reels from 10% unemployment, bank and industry bailouts, and federal stimulus one-time investment covering up crater-sized holes in state and local government budgets.

 

Come to think of it, pretty much any credible person ought to be able to lead the Republican National Committee to victory in re-taking control of Congress in November. We don’t need Spartacus or Moses, we just need someone believable.

 

So, if not Michael Steele, who is the person to lead the GOP back from the wilderness? Some say former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is the one. Really?

 

Look, she did a fine job as Alaska’s chief executive. She was a very good small town mayor, too. She is attractive, she can read from a teleprompter almost as well as the president, and she definitely hasn’t lost her cheerleader’s ability to get a group of people to chant and shout at a rally.

 

That said, I just can’t take seriously anyone who suggests that she is future of the Republican Party.

 

So, who can fill that role? Governors are often considered the back bench for national leadership. Gov. Haley Barbour has done a very good job in Mississippi, and is a former RNC chairman to boot.

 

Problem? He comes from Mississippi.

 

He’s also been the recipient of complaints about personally profiting from his public service; but most of those claims are political smear attempts from Democratic opponents and their union and media toadies.

 

Not far away, Charlie Crist, the GOP governor of Florida, appears on the verge of shedding his Republican affiliation in the interest of his own re-election. Once considered almost unbeatable, and oft-mentioned as a future presidential candidate, Governor Crist is now running a distant second to former Florida State House Speaker Marco Rubio, a young traditional conservative who finds favor from Tea Party supporters. Think Alex Mooney but with some real meaningful legislative accomplishments to accompany all of the rhetoric.

 

The Rubio camp uses a tried and true method to divide Crist supporters, the old go-along-to-get-along argument. Governor Crist was photographed embracing President Barack Obama at a public event last year, and now that photo is being used as a badge of shame by the Rubio campaign.

 

Maybe not the smartest move in modern political history, but far from the defining moment in Governor Crist’s service to Florida. More recently, Mr. Crist vetoed an education reform measure popular in traditional GOP circles. While the governor cited technical reasons for vetoing the bill, the action provides Mr. Rubio with a platform to challenge Governor Crist’s credentials and core beliefs.

 

Marco Rubio is running as a tight-fisted protector of tax resources. His voting record in the Florida legislature shows him to be a fierce defender of pork-barrel spending. Lately he’s also gotten caught up in using state party credit cards for personal expenses. He got a $130 haircut on a state GOP credit card. Why do these idiots always get expensive haircuts?

 

Governor Crist is likely to switch to Independent and challenge Mr. Rubio in the General Election. Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek certainly hopes so, as it seems to be his only chance of pulling out a miracle.

 

Over in South Carolina, the saddest example of this identity battle is playing out. Two-term Sen. Lindsey Graham finds himself the center of an attack led by a group called Americans for Legal Immigration-PAC (ALI-PAC). William Gheen, ALI-PAC’s leader, is a darling of the Tea Party movement and is invited to speak at rallies around the country to attack the erosion of American values by lax immigration policies.

 

It appears that immigration is not Mr. Gheen’s only concern. He has also called on Senator Graham to expose his rumored homosexuality, so that South Carolinians can be comforted that Mr. Graham isn’t being blackmailed by the Obama Administration into supporting comprehensive immigration reform in order to protect his “secret.”

 

On the issue of the social impacts of illegal immigration, Mr. Gheen may well be right. On the issue of Senator Graham’s personal life, he is not only wrong, he is destined to damage any movement he associates himself with, including the Tea Party movement and the South Carolina Republican Party.

 

This should be a shining moment in the annals of the National Republican Party. It will take a major effort to avoid allowing disreputable tactics and people to do further harm to the GOP.

 

Our system needs two strong parties. Our constitutional republic thrives on clear choices and ideological division. One party rule by the Democrats is clearly not in our best interests. The question is whether the Republicans can do any better.

 



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