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. renee

    This is too easy start the bush bashing I love it in 3...2...1... hahahahahahahahahahahh!!!!!

    January 5, 2009 09:04 pm at 9:04 pm |
  2. one party government

    with any luck, Bush sank the party and thats it

    January 5, 2009 09:04 pm at 9:04 pm |
  3. a new year

    at least the republicans can see just how bad they have failed the U.S.

    January 5, 2009 09:06 pm at 9:06 pm |
  4. Bob

    May I also add that George W. Bush could quite possibly be the worst President this country has ever had including Herbert Hoover and yes, Jimmy Carter. Please...just say NO to Jeb!

    January 5, 2009 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  5. Rick Sutter

    Bush let the Republican party down by becoming too liberal, specifically his Open Borders policies and excessive federal spending. The party needs to re-dedicate itself to true conservative issues, primarily fiscal conservatism and limited federal government.

    January 5, 2009 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  6. voter

    the republicans have to stop whinning. where were they all this time? Now they are complaining because Bush is leaving office in two weeks. This is a lame attempt from the rethugs to pretend that they are turning a new leaf. the republicans are scum and no longer need to exsist as a party.

    January 5, 2009 09:18 pm at 9:18 pm |
  7. Sherrol in Canada

    Granted Bush 43 was not the best president, but as far as I'm concerned these yahoos that are hpoing to become Chairman of the RNC are snakes in the grass and turncoats.

    Looks like they want this position so badly, they would sell their souls to get it. Now what does that say about the type of Chairman any one of them would make?

    Truly and utterly disgusting!!! And believe you me, I am no George W Bush fan!

    January 5, 2009 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  8. tonybama, grahamsville, ny

    Where were they for the last eight years while the country was being flushed down the toilet? Supporting all his policies is where they were!

    January 5, 2009 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  9. mary the clerk

    FACE IT FOLKS......Bush was / is an utter and complete disaster...who brought down the GOP. You repubes have no one to blame but yourselves. As for how you guys can get back on your feet...well, I think it would help if you guys retired all the old white bigots and kicked all the Jesus freaks out the back door....along with the Wal Mart crowd and the Sarah Palins. The world has changed. The key is to include everyone and live and let live.......Good luck, you'll need it

    WE LOVE YOU OBAMA!!!!!!!!!!!

    January 5, 2009 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
  10. MLH

    Bush is a big target, but he didn't do it all on his own – and that is why the RNC finds itself in the position it does now.

    January 5, 2009 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
  11. Jon

    Do these men understand the meaning of the word "traitor". They may not be treated as kindly as the Dems treated Lieberman. Perhaps they should show some party loyalty if they hope to lead the party.

    January 5, 2009 09:27 pm at 9:27 pm |
  12. ANTI-GOP

    RNC = liars, crooks, treasonists & racists.

    Proof = last 8 years.

    January 5, 2009 09:29 pm at 9:29 pm |
  13. Randy, San Francisco

    Can you believe it? A little honest soul searching for a change.

    January 5, 2009 09:29 pm at 9:29 pm |
  14. CJ

    It's good they can see where they went wrong. I don't want them to be as conservative as Ronald Reagan, but a little less religious right might be nice. And no more Bushes.

    January 5, 2009 09:29 pm at 9:29 pm |
  15. John G

    "I want to win, and I believe my colleagues want to win.”

    As a died red in the wool Republican, I take issue with that statement. I also see it as the biggest problem with the party.

    We don't need to be a bunch of power hungry politicians who seek only to win the next election. We need to be the champion of the little guy-Abe Lincoln was a Republican and he ended slavery. Essentially we need to stop focusing on elections and start focusing on ways to make this country better without giving up on the core values on which this country was founded.

    January 5, 2009 09:31 pm at 9:31 pm |
  16. Larry in Houston

    They had better debate their party's future, because it's over !
    It will be at LEAST 2020 til they win the white house again !
    They may win the congress and the senate, from time to time,
    but their party is definitely done !

    Larry C.
    Houston, Texas

    January 5, 2009 09:33 pm at 9:33 pm |
  17. Rob

    the GOP has no future – Bush and the religious right hijacked the party and killed them. And thank God for that

    January 5, 2009 09:35 pm at 9:35 pm |
  18. Larry in Houston

    Certainly they don't think the AVERAGE "working class" people will vote for them, (the ones that play by the rules, and so on.) (just to get their money taken away from them) If the truth be known, they are only for the CEO'S & Business Owners....

    Larry C.
    Houston, Texas

    January 5, 2009 09:36 pm at 9:36 pm |
  19. 7 years with no terrorist attacks in the U.S.---

    That is George Bush's legacy and gift to the American people. Can Obama do better than zero terrorist attacks--I hope so but don't bet on it.

    January 5, 2009 09:37 pm at 9:37 pm |
  20. Karen - Atlanta


    January 5, 2009 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  21. Jan Illinois

    "Failed" doesn't come close to describing what went on. "Treason is the better word to describe what went on. Now what are you going to do about it?

    January 5, 2009 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  22. Old and Boring

    WHO CARES– The Repugs are so last Tuesday– old tired and boring.

    January 5, 2009 09:42 pm at 9:42 pm |
  23. Democrat

    The only republican i think is a good leader is Olympia Snowe, senator of Maine. She's a woman, and unlike most of her party, actually is someone worth listening to. A moderate Rep., and if John McCain picked her instead of Wasilla Hillbilly, he might have won. (If he didn't say the economy "is fundamentally strong", when we all knew it was collapsing)

    January 5, 2009 09:46 pm at 9:46 pm |
  24. Robert

    Elitist Backstabbers.

    “All that noise about this party dying or is at death’s door?"
    Believe it. Republicans don't change.

    January 5, 2009 09:46 pm at 9:46 pm |
  25. Sherrol in Canada

    Bush 43 was definitely not a great president, but these yahoos running for Chairman of the RNC are snakes in the grass and turncoats.

    What type of leader would any one of them make, they are not even tactful in their description of Bush's failings. Looks like they would do anything to head the RNC....disgraceful!!!

    ...and believe you me I am no fan of George W Bush.

    January 5, 2009 09:50 pm at 9:50 pm |
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