Republicans Elects Reince Priebus as the New RNC Chairman — Michael Steele Drops Bid

POLITICAL HIGHLIGHTS

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

THE HEADLINES….


(Image: NYT)

  • G.O.P. Elects a New Chairman as Steele Drops Out: The Republican National Committee selected a new leader on Friday, with its choice, Reince Priebus of Wisconsin, surviving seven contentious rounds of balloting to overtake Michael Steele, the embattled chairman, as party officials demanded new leadership to fortify the party for the 2012 presidential race. Mr. Priebus, who broke away from Mr. Steele’s close circle of advisers to run against him, said he would work to rebuild the trust of major contributors who had lost faith in the party and begin preparing to challenge President Obama. He pledged to heal any divisions among Republican constituencies. “We all recognize that there’s a steep hill ahead of us,” Mr. Priebus said, delivering his first remarks as party chairman. “The only way we’ll be able to move forward is if we’re all together.” NYT, 1-14-11
  • G.O.P. Leader’s Promise: Humility and Hard Work: For Reince Priebus, the new chairman of the Republican National Committee, politics has long been more than simply a hobby. It provided the entertainment for the first date with his wife. More than a decade ago, when Representatives Henry J. Hyde of Illinois and James F. Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin were delivering keynote speeches at a Lincoln Day Dinner in Kenosha, Wis., Mr. Priebus reserved two tickets and turned the event into part of his courtship.
    “I know. Nerd alert,” Mr. Priebus said in an interview a few hours after he was elected on Friday to lead the national Republican Party. His voice was filled with self-deprecation as he recalled the moment. “But we went to a movie after that.”
    Humility was a key selling point for Mr. Priebus as he embarked on a two-month campaign to overthrow Michael Steele, the controversial party chairman, and begin the challenging task of rebuilding a committee that is more than $21 million in debt and competing for relevance in an age when the political establishment is no longer the most popular place to be…. – NYT, 1-15-11
  • New chairman targets GOP team setting up 2012 national convention in Tampa: There’s a new Republican National Chairman in office, and he’s about to clean house on the team putting together the 2012 Republican convention in Tampa. Responding to complaints about excessive spending by the RNC’s convention team, newly elected chairman Reince Priebus told Republican U.S. House members in a closed door meeting Saturday that he was going to replace the RNC’s convention team in Tampa Bay with his own team, Politico reported Saturday.
    The RNC has about a half dozen staffers working on the convention out of donated office space in downtown Tampa, but the work has drawn considerable criticism and helped fuel opposition to former RNC chairman Michael Steele. For instance, he hired his former assistant, Belinda Cook, for $15,000-per-month, and she spent thousands of dollars renting a 3,200 square foot waterfront Treasure Island home…. – St Petersburg Times, 1-15-11
  • Reince Priebus replaces Michael Steele as GOP chairman: The Republican National Committee selected Reince Priebus as its new chairman, replacing Michael Steele, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland. Steele’s two-year tenure was marked by high spending, financial debt and verbal gaffes. Priebus won late Friday afternoon after seven rounds of balloting. He received 97 votes out 168 ballots cast.
    Steele, the party’s first African-American chairman, sought a second term, but conceded midafternoon. “I think the party is ready for something different,” Steele said. Priebus is the Wisconsin GOP chairman and a former general counsel for the RNC…. – USA Today, 1-14-11
  • Reince Priebus: “We Can Defeat Barack Obama in 2012”: The Republican Party will face significant challenges in the 2012 election cycle: A geared-up Democratic electorate excited to see President Obama back on the ballot, a rowdy and somewhat unpredictable Tea Party base, funds flowing through multiple outside organizations. On top of all that, the Republican National Committee must deal with its splintered membership and more than $20 million in debt. New RNC Chairman Reince Priebus today acknowledged as much after his fellow committee members chose him to put him at the helm of the organization.
    “We recognize that the Democrats have taken this country on the wrong path, and it isn’t going to be easy or glamorous, but together we must lead,” he said. Priebus, a 38-year-old lawyer who served as chairman of the Wisconsin GOP, said he plans to keep his head down and get to work. That means restructuring the RNC’s financial operation, hiring a top-notch staff, improving the lines of communication with state parties and — perhaps most importantly — restoring the faith of the party’s donors. “Together we can defeat Barack Obama in 2012, together, unified as a committee,” Priebus said…. – CBS News, 1-14-11
  • Michael Steele’s many blunders led to defeat in RNC chair reelection campaign: Republicans emerged from a 2008 electoral drubbing not only lacking a telegenic spokesman for the party but virtually any major officials who were not white, a major void after the election of the nation’s first black president. Michael Steele seemed like the right man at the right time: an African-American Republican who loved going on television. But instead of turning into a solution for the GOP, critics say Steele blundered so many times in his first few months as chairman of the Republican National Committee that party officials openly considered replacing him well before the first quarter of his two-year tenure had ended. Republicans completed the dumping of Steele on Friday, voting out the party’s first-ever black chairman…. – WaPo, 1-14-11

QUOTES

  • Outgoing Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele’s 10 best gaffes: Embattled Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele abandoned his re-election bid Friday after four rounds of balloting left him far short of a second term.
    Steele, who just finished his first two-year term in the job, dropped out as four other hopefuls competed to become his successor. Steele, 52, urged his backers to give their support to GOP operative Maria Cino, who worked in George W. Bush’s administration, but Reince Priebus, the head of the Wisconsin Republican Party, ultimately was elected after seven rounds of voting.
    The GOP’s first black chairman received a standing ovation from the party regulars after pulling out of the race. His spotty two-year reign included huge victories by the GOP in the November elections, but for many, Steele is known more for his verbal gaffes than his electoral accomplishments…. – NY Daily News, 1-14-11

HISTORIANS & ANALYSTS’ COMMENTS

Dewey Clayton Professor of Political Science, University of Louisville: Michael Steele’s legacy will be a mixed one. On the one hand, Steele first and foremost will be remembered as the first African-American to be elected as chairman of the RNC. Secondly, it was under Steele’s stewardship that Republicans gained the majority in the House in 2010. Many saw Steele’s election as an effort by the Republican Party to reach out to African-American voters and portray an image of being open to all and not as an exclusive party. To that end, two black Republicans were elected to Congress in 2010. They will be the first black Republicans in Congress since J.C. Watts of Oklahoma retired in 2003. And they are also the first black Republicans in the House since Reconstruction.
Unfortunately, much of the attention that Steele received during his tenure was negative. He was criticized for often acting too independently, people questioned some of his paid speaking engagements, and there were issues of excessive spending. I think the controversy surrounding Steele may have caused many Republican donors to scale back their contributions to the RNC. Because of this, his lack of fundraising will be a lasting legacy. It’s hard to say whether Steele did more harm than good. He was a charismatic leader and some of the controversy during his tenure was not really his fault. I think that ultimately, he did more good than harm and the Republicans did gain the majority in the House under his leadership. The next chairman, assuming that Steele does not win another term, should probably maintain a lower profile and concentrate on improving the level of fundraising.. – Politico Arena, 1-14-11

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