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. Susie

    And I suppose these guys all voted against the war, against the Patriot Act, against the first bailout, ,and totally support the effort to impeach Bush.

    I thought not.

    January 5, 2009 09:52 pm at 9:52 pm |
  2. Jeff, Huntington Beach, CA

    Naturally... Johnnie come lately's knocking Bush because it is in vogue, being the thing to do to salvage their wretched careers.

    Typical pathetic politicians.

    January 5, 2009 09:53 pm at 9:53 pm |
  3. Jim

    I cannot stand the arguement of there being no terrorist attacks in the 7.5 years after September 11. If no terrorist attacks in that timeframe means the person that was president is solely responsible for no attacks, by the same logic we can clame the person that was president when the attacks occured is soley responsible because he failed to prevent it!

    You cannot say with certainty that Bush was the reason there was no attacks. Want to know why? Because we don't have the counter factual, which is Bush not being president after the attacks (which would mean he wasn't president before). We have no idea what would have happened had Gore been the president. Maybe there would have been another attack, maybe the first attacks never would have happened. That's the funny thing about events in time. If event X happens after event Y you can never say with complete certainty that X caused Y, only that it happened first.

    January 5, 2009 09:54 pm at 9:54 pm |
  4. Chuck

    Of course they knock Bush. He is the worst president in history. They could not do otherwise.

    January 5, 2009 09:55 pm at 9:55 pm |
  5. chuck


    January 5, 2009 09:58 pm at 9:58 pm |
  6. Independent Dave, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

    voter January 5th, 2009 9:18 pm ET

    Well put!

    January 5, 2009 10:01 pm at 10:01 pm |
  7. Xavier

    What? Didnt all you republican used to say that Bush was the best thing since sliced white bread? As for the comment that Bush's gift was seven years with no terrorist attacks, what about the fact that he was so focused on Saddam that he was alseep at the wheel when the first one happened?

    January 5, 2009 10:02 pm at 10:02 pm |
  8. C W

    To "7 years with no terrorist attacks in the U.S."- You are deluding yourself if you think the naive, incompetent and arrogant Bush Administration is the reason why we haven't been attacked "in the U.S." What about all the Humvees lacking armor in Iraq and the resulting deaths? What about all the devastating casualties in Afghanistan? What about every American who’s been targeted and attacked around the world because of the hatred the Bush Administration’s policies and actions have inspired?

    How soon people forget that in August 2001 the Bush Administration received a briefing on "Al Queda determined to attack the U.S. using planes" and did nothing .... How soon people forget that Donald Rumsfeld ignored the generals who warned that if we were to invade Iraq, we'd need 400,000 troops... How soon people forget that Cheney said we'd be greeted as liberators in Iraq…

    I think we haven't been attacked IN SPITE of the Bush Administration. Our thanks go to all the men and women in military service, as well as the intelligence agencies and every other American who has stepped up to help keep our country safe these last 7 years.

    Bush & Company should be on their knees thanking us!

    January 5, 2009 10:02 pm at 10:02 pm |
  9. Buckeye

    GOP: Grand Ol Prostitutes. Go away.

    January 5, 2009 10:03 pm at 10:03 pm |
  10. Texas Teacher

    Hmmmmmph! Strange they could not have made these opinions known when they would have counted! 🙁

    Seriously, Repubs.... you lost... your brand of politics will be history in less than two weeks...

    ....you've been drunk with power and out of control for 8 years.... your reign of terror is over! A little too late to take back water now... don't cha think?

    Just saying.... 🙂

    January 5, 2009 10:04 pm at 10:04 pm |
  11. fred michaels

    I think that if Obama wants to help the country, that he should offer to work for a salary of one dollar a year. He should also not spend the tax payers money sending his children to private school that costs over 30,000 dollars a year. Every other parent in the United States has to pay for their own childs education. Lastly maybe Obama should try staying in a less expensive hotel while waiting to take control.

    January 5, 2009 10:06 pm at 10:06 pm |
  12. bob smith


    January 5, 2009 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  13. Ms. Johnson, Pearland,Texas

    The Bush administration has exposed the very worse of the republican party with there racist base, the religious right and their constant negative rhetoric that has divided the country. They have turned the majority of minorities away from there party. There is an old saying in Texas that states... "They are so heavenly bound, that they are no earthly good."

    January 5, 2009 10:11 pm at 10:11 pm |
  14. Rudolph

    How come none of these goofie Bush bashers ran for President? Seems to me if someone thinks they could do a much better job at something, then they should try. Right? Right. So shut up or show up.

    January 5, 2009 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  15. Art Michaelson

    The BUSH/CHENY 8 years has been such a disaster for the USA and the AMERICAN people that it will probably take a generation of uneducated/trained Americans and the import of foreign scholars to make it right again. "W" and "C" should be tried for CRIMES against AMERICA and HUMANITY in general.

    January 5, 2009 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |

    This is just too easy, like walking thru an open door, and besides why would I want to tell them what is wrong?

    I agree the party is about bible thumpers, neo-cons and rednecks. Why improve upon pefection?

    January 5, 2009 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  17. Michigan

    911 happened in Bush's watch...

    January 5, 2009 10:14 pm at 10:14 pm |
  18. No Incumbents 2010

    @ Larry in Houston

    The way the scandals are piling up the repubs may get the Whitehouse back in 2012. Just sayin'

    I say kick 'em all out of congress, especially the ones spending money like drunken sailors !

    January 5, 2009 10:14 pm at 10:14 pm |
  19. Chris in Houston

    They need to honestly look at the reasons they lost. Stop invoking Reagan. He wasn't a great President or a great thinker. He introduced the most immoral edict in American politics which he called the 11th Commandment. ie: thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican. That is a belief that puts Political Loyalty ahead of right and wrong, honesty and decency, law and justice and the Constitution. It is the ONLY value that the Republicans have followed since. And America simply had enough of Religious hypocrits(sp?) lying and cheating and smearing as unpatriotic anyone who disagreed with their holier-than-thou morality. God is not American nor is he conservative. Being a liberal or a moderate is not a crime against humanity. For the better part of 8 years they treated anyone who disagreed with the politics of Limbaugh or Fox News as a traitor. The first thing they need to do is open a dictionary or a history book and learn the difference between patriotism and McCarthyism. That is the single most important thing that they need to learn.
    Second, they need to hold themselves accountable to the same high standards they lament that everyone else lacks.
    Third, stop blaming Bush. If he was such a disaster why did you rubber stamp everything he did for 8 years? Last, if you want to reach out to minorities don't send out CD's calling the President -elect a "magic-Negro". If you can't even begin to understand what is wrong with that, then you truly are finished. Sorry.

    January 5, 2009 10:14 pm at 10:14 pm |
  20. Joel Hammer

    6 liars and incompetents. The Republicans are over the hill. The American People are sick and tired of their hypocrisy

    January 5, 2009 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
  21. Bobby Bronze

    I agree, how come know it all Michale Steele didn't run for president ?

    January 5, 2009 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  22. yota

    The RNC is like a bunch of rats running for cover. The problems we are facing as a country today are clearly left over from the Clinton administration. NAFTA, ignoring problems in the middle east, the list goes on and on. Face it America, you just voted in the same old same old. I hope you don't really believe that the check is going to be in the mail. Get real. The Bush administration at least had a backbone, remember the saying "DON'T TREAD ON ME". But it will not matter when the Obama administration turns us over to the UN. Just remember, a country boy can survive.

    January 5, 2009 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
  23. John G

    For the love of God stop acting like this was some big Republican vent fest. They were answering a question!

    January 5, 2009 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
  24. Moderators

    oh yes, and since we don't know the difference between a good comment and a dumb one, we moderators should have run for president.

    January 5, 2009 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
  25. Chris in Orlando

    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

    ....wow Mary, you're not a clueless unhinged leftist ideologue, are ya'? By the by, why is "The Messiah" keeping Bush's war chief on board, as well as hiring a bunch of old time clintonistas? So much for "change"... ehh, this is going to be fun.

    January 5, 2009 10:21 pm at 10:21 pm |
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