January 5th, 2009
07:43 PM ET
12 years ago

Candidates for RNC chair knock Bush, debate party's future

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/01/05/art.getty.bush.podium.jpg caption="Six candidates for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee lashed out at Pres. Bush during a forum in Washington Monday."]
WASHINGTON (CNN) - In an unusual moment of candor from a group of high-ranking partisans, the six candidates for Republican Party chairman offered frank criticisms of the Bush administration Monday.

Asked by conservative Grover Norquist to point out failings of the Bush administration, candidates attending a forum sponsored by Americans for Tax Reform promptly obliged.

Incumbent RNC chairman Mike Duncan, seeking re-election after a dismal performance in 2008, said the administration “failed” in their prosecution of the war in Iraq.

“I think the plans of the war and actually how it was implemented were two different things,” he said.

Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell criticized the administration’s support for the $700 billion bailout of the financial sector, while Michigan state party chair Saul Anuzis chided the administration’s penchant for “more spending and bigger deficits.”

Former Tennessee GOP chairman Chip Saltsman faulted the Bush White House for having a poor communications strategy. And South Carolina GOP chair Katon Dawson said Bush failed to deliver on certain big-ticket agenda items, which ultimately hurt Republican candidates at the polls.

“The social security debate and the immigration debate,” he said. “Those were two that tore out party apart at certain times and cost us electorally.”

Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele was more generous in his criticisms: “Failure to communicate on the war. Katrina. Bailout.” Steele paused. “Um, yeah we’ll stop there.”

As Democrat Barack Obama spent his first full day in Washington as the president-elect, the group met just blocks from the White House to debate the future of the GOP and chart a course back to Oval Office and to majorities on Capitol Hill.

The showdown was the first ever nationally-televised debate for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee, according to Norquist.

The forum had the feel of an early-stage presidential primary debate: few ideological differences were revealed among the candidates, who uniformly pledged allegiance to the legacy of Ronald Reagan and promised to move the party back to its conservative roots.

“Until we actually start articulating those principles and stop being hypocritical ourselves, then we as a party will not be victorious,” said Anuzis.

But the participants didn’t waste time mourning their losses in November; instead, each pledged to reform the party structure and change the way Republicans communicate their ideas to voters.

Said Steele, a local favorite who stocked the audience with sign-waving supporters: “All that noise about this party dying or is at death’s door? Bunk. Don’t believe it.”

The candidates promised to invest in new technology to keep pace with Obama’s high-tech campaign juggernaut. They took turns listing their profiles on various social networking sites and spent time comparing the number of “friends” each had on Facebook.

There was universal agreement that the RNC needs to expand the party much like the Democratic National Committee did with their “50-state strategy,” which placed paid staffers in traditionally red states and sought to build the party up from the grassroots.

Decentralizing the party and devoting more resources to the grassroots, they argued, will keep legislators accountable and help Republicans stay in tune with voter attitudes.

“We have to reinvigorate the base and push power responsibility and resources back to state and county parties,” said Blackwell. “We must abandon the 28-state strategy that has been in place for the last presidential cycles.”

The Republicans said it would be a necessity to grow the party’s appeal among African-Americans and Hispanics, constituencies that flocked to Obama in November, in order to regain a political majority in the country.

Asked about reaching out to the disaffected supporters of maverick Republican congressman Ron Paul, Dawson said that while he often disagreed with Paul supporters, he welcomed their enthusiasm and would seek out ways to include them.

“I want people involved in my party that will hang off bridges, and paint on their cars, and make up t-shirts,” he said. “When we become the party of addition, we start winning races.”

Despite the shots at Bush, there was little in the way of direct confrontation during the forum itself, except for a jab Blackwell directed at Dawson, who has touted his record of getting Republicans elected in the South Carolina since taking over the state party in 2001.

“We all know how hard it is to win elections in that swing state of South Carolina,” Blackwell said.

After the event, Duncan said he had no trouble sitting on stage with his rivals as they offered criticisms about the current state of the party.

“I don’t take these things personally,” Duncan said. “I’ve been involved in Republican politics for a long time. I want to win, and I believe my colleagues want to win.”

Filed under: RNC
soundoff (122 Responses)
  1. My Friends, let me tell you,

    Get rid of your main problem first and his name is Grover.The repubs will surely fail with this super neocon at the helm.

    January 5, 2009 07:47 pm at 7:47 pm |
  2. Meka

    The List Goes On – And On!

    January 5, 2009 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  3. earle,florida

    What a bunch of idiotic statements from guys who could have said something years ago. Yet, they choose now to vent their frustration? This is the "GOP's" leadership taking a stand! I have to show some empathy for this forsakened party: "It has taken eight years for one man to bring the entire Republican Party to it's demise"! Bravo Bush,you da man,...

    January 5, 2009 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  4. Action

    Chip Saltzman is criticizing Bush's communications strategy? The Producer of "Barack the Magic Negro" can criticize anyone on communications?

    The GOP is indeed lost in their own hubris.

    January 5, 2009 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  5. Meka

    BUT ! We voters can make a difference . . . we can, control our future.

    Congress Term Limits . . . 12 years, NO Retirement!

    January 5, 2009 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
  6. Ron in Asheville, NC

    They need to go somewhere else if they are going to continue to be relevant. What we are living through IS the legacy of Ronald Reagan, and the public, while it may not say it in those words, by and large knows that.

    January 5, 2009 08:03 pm at 8:03 pm |
  7. Tim

    republicans are hypocrites – nothing more, nothing less


    January 5, 2009 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  8. Proud American

    News flash, my dog called Bush an Idiot this morning (No new there). Republican are such losers. Ok go ahead and throw each other under the bus.

    January 5, 2009 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
  9. Paul in FL

    If anyone is interested I can give a more detailed critique of the Bush Administration but I would probably be arrested for excessive profanity.

    January 5, 2009 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
  10. FreeNLovIt

    I am utterly speechless.

    January 5, 2009 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
  11. ironmen1987

    Love the way my Repub leaders lash out at Bush for the failures of this country. I personnally think the entire govt over the last eight years should have been canned regardless of party. If you boys think this is the way to regroup our party then we truely have a long way to go. At least you're giving the libs something to laugh at.....

    January 5, 2009 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
  12. Keith

    That means it's time for "Chip" to come out and send copies to members of the RNC of his new video "How I kissed up to Karl Rove and Tom Delay.

    How much diversification was on that stage?????.......yeah right!!!

    January 5, 2009 08:19 pm at 8:19 pm |
  13. J.L.

    Good luck to all the candidates for the RNC Chairmanship... 8 years under the poster child of Republican party, the Bush regime, has pretty much has destroyed the party in the eyes of a good majority of people in the US. The main problem I've always seen with the party is that it's made to be exclusionary so it only attracts certain types of people... the "God create the Earth in 7 days so evolution is just a myth" science-fearing bible-thumpers, the "less-regulation and cut our taxes so that we can make more money" rich old white folks, the "I fear anyone different than me but I'm not prejudice or racist" white folks, etc... some might say the fact I'm emphasizing the "white" aspect of it is racist, but sorry... you must be living in a bubble. All you had to do was look at a panning shot of the audience in the Republican National Convention to get an idea of the composition of the Republican party.

    January 5, 2009 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  14. Mel of Alexandria, Virginia

    They can be as conservative as they want, just leave out fiscal conservatism, because they have been totally irresponsible in that regard. The elephant is already through the gate, just do not try to lock the donkey inside your narrow-minded perimeters.

    January 5, 2009 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  15. Tek

    All I hear from the party is what's good for the party. What happened to what is good for the country? And do please be so kind as to not say that what is good for the RNC is good for America. We have crystal vision as to how that has worked out, and is still playing out in these great states.

    January 5, 2009 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
  16. The lamest duck ever--bush!

    Will neocons ever elect someone with brains? How silly of me, brains and neocons = oxymoron!

    January 5, 2009 08:43 pm at 8:43 pm |
  17. Scott L

    Well the good news is, all this party re-alignment is being obscured in the media by all the corrupt Democratic scandals happening before BHO is even in office.

    January 5, 2009 08:43 pm at 8:43 pm |
  18. John G. Malone

    You scrubbed Sarah Palin's name from the list of disgraced politicians. Weak! Show some integrity and apologize!

    John G. Malone
    Member: Team Sarah.org.

    January 5, 2009 08:44 pm at 8:44 pm |
  19. Franky

    Was this a debate or a therapy session? LOL!! Because it surely sounds like it...

    By the way, did they clap like kids when they revealed who they got on their Facebook friends?? Did they hung around and sat down and share all of their thousands of friends on that social site?? Did they smile and care for all the friends they have?? In case you haven't noticed, I'm being sarcastic, LOL!!!

    Ohh wow, Facebook is so cool and technology is so evolving that we need to take baby steps...I have one word for it...LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    January 5, 2009 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
  20. Joe the Drummer

    Privatize Social Security(how dumb could you be), Support amnesty for illegal aliens( how dumb could you be) Launch an uncalled for war against Iraq when AlQaida is in Afganistan( how dumb could you be) socialize Wall street with 800 billion dollars and provide no plan or oversight of the money( how dumb could you be) Think that using high technology will win back Republicans( how dumb could you be)

    When Republicans realize that its their blind devotion to the agenda of corporate special interests that is turning away voters then they can address that problem and win back voters. Even hard core conservatives are vomiting in the comode when they ponder how the Republican party is owned by big money.

    January 5, 2009 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  21. Tim

    Boze, you in here? I can't find that darned dang clown anywhere.

    January 5, 2009 08:48 pm at 8:48 pm |
  22. S Callahan

    A very long time ago, My grandfather was a die hard Repbulican and gave great service to the party....he would just vomit to see the state it's in now. He believed in the value of hard work, and helping fellow man to stand on his own two feet. He did not support trash talking, and felt each person deserved to be shown dignity and respect regardless of differing views. I became a Democrat because I saw the plight of the suffering was ignored with the Elephant...then after twenty years saw the Democrats acting just like soured Republicans and switched back......My point is....this party needs me and others like me but in order to keep us they have to change their thinking, open their minds beyond themselves and look at the community as a whole and how one can make it better for the community while mantaining the dignity of each person. Get away from the negative and focus on the possiblities.

    January 5, 2009 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  23. tigerakabj

    1. They had no trouble backing up Bush over the last 8 years. Their boys signed off on this gigantic deficit (i.e. Boehner, Mitch McConnell) and now they want to throw Bush under the bus?
    2. Prosecution of the war? How about not starting the war to begin with. It was for Bush's oil. No WMDs found.
    3. Party of addition huh? Calling the incoming president "the magic negro" and the song "Star Spanglish banner" are not going to attract anybody except racists. On top of that, calling anybody that doesn't agree with them an "Anti-American, terrorist-loving, socialist, marxist, liberal isn't going to do the trick either.

    These Republicans are lost and I hope they stay that way. From Katrina, to Iraq war, to this economic crisis, these folks heaped devastation on the land and they need to pay.

    January 5, 2009 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  24. Intelligent American

    Cue ignorant remark from "Proud American" in 3... 2... 1...

    January 5, 2009 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  25. Sherrol in Canada

    Send in the clowns!!!

    January 5, 2009 09:01 pm at 9:01 pm |
1 2 3 4 5