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. John

    The United States may have gone 7 years without a terrorist attack, but GWB has been president for 8. The worst terror attack in American history took place on his watch, and because of his inability to heed the many warnings of what was coming.

    January 5, 2009 10:21 pm at 10:21 pm |
  2. Bill, Streamwood, IL

    Regardless of what these people say about George Bush, the fact remains that the Republicans elected to the House and Senate from 2000 to 2006 are just as bad as he is. They did not perform their Constitutional duty of providing checks and balances to the President.

    Maybe the GOP should start looking for men and women with some spine, and not the party hacks we've been getting lately. Taking an occasional stand against one's own party and even voting along with the opposition is not always a sign of disloyalty.

    Until Republicans understand this, they might as well get used to being a distant second.

    January 5, 2009 10:22 pm at 10:22 pm |
  3. toasta

    right, how come one of these guys ran for president ?

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

    WTG AL – Norm give it up!

    January 5, 2009 10:24 pm at 10:24 pm |
  5. Zion

    Conservativism like Liberalism does not work. Conservatives preach that libreals bring dependency, but so do they just under different circumstances. Second, if the Republican party wants to regain footing, Republicans must learn that their continuous pandering to only one side of the ideological spectrum (the Conservative wing) will cost them dearly.

    January 5, 2009 10:24 pm at 10:24 pm |
  6. Jonathan

    I cannot believe anyone could support bush earl in florida whatever drugs you are doing you really need to stop. This country is in the biggest deficiet ever and you think Bush is the man???

    January 5, 2009 10:25 pm at 10:25 pm |
  7. Bea

    way to rebild the imagine of the RNC.....

    January 5, 2009 10:30 pm at 10:30 pm |
  8. Linda L - Sedona AZ

    It is past time for demonizing the Republicans and each other. Time for the blame game to end. I am sick at heart reading posts where Republicans and Democrats continually bash each other. Terrorists don't just blow up buildings.... they also seek to destroy this country from within. The internet is so anonymous any of us can pretend to be anything so those so called Democrats who bash Republicans, and those so called Republicans who bash Democrats, may just be those who seek to destroy us by pitting each of us against the other.
    Lets seek an honest dialog of our positions and leave the radical elements of either party to discover a more middle ground. And let's keep religion out of government and keep it alive in our homes and churches.

    January 5, 2009 10:31 pm at 10:31 pm |
  9. Former Republican

    The GOP is not fiscally responsible. It never has been. Daddy Bush and Reagan both ran up huge deficits. George W is a symptom of Republican rot, not the cause.

    January 5, 2009 10:31 pm at 10:31 pm |
  10. Meka

    Someone please ask Mr. Bush, why is Isreal keeping CNN (and maybe other News Reporters) out of Gaza!

    And just what is Mr. Bush trying to do to America!

    We're in no position to Defend Ourselves!

    January 5, 2009 10:34 pm at 10:34 pm |
  11. Proud American

    George in 2 weeks and 1 day D.C. police will be coming to the White House to throw you out.

    January 5, 2009 10:35 pm at 10:35 pm |
  12. Lyndon from CA

    Why didn't they throw a size '10' instead, followed by some choice epithets?

    January 5, 2009 10:36 pm at 10:36 pm |
  13. John E.

    I agree witn C.G. but the GOP was set on priciples When these priciples go astray the party will faultier. I don't completely bare the burden on President G ,W. Bush I do admit he is blame of the party going astray. Maybe these principles must looked at closely so that the Repubilcans can get back in popular demand. I agree we must have Income Tax overhual Yet in these economic times I will barely see it. It will take us almost decade or more to get out this economical vortex mess I agree with President Elect Obama It takes more than one U.S .Government to make a world economical Yet the corruption MUST STOP.

    January 5, 2009 10:38 pm at 10:38 pm |
  14. CJ

    Who cares he is has been the worst president ever, no matter what his father said. He is the worst president ever! And NO WE do not want any more Bushes in office. History will take care of that! We the people can totally say YES to that, we are living proof ov that!

    January 5, 2009 10:42 pm at 10:42 pm |
  15. Lori

    Now the Republicans are critics of the President. Too late- you're a party of the past and the party of fear tactics which is so boring now.

    As for the comments by Republicans that Bush is to be celebrated because there have been no terrorist attacks in 7 years. Firstly, the Republicans are just waiting for another terrorist attacks on American soil so that they can blame Obama. How unpatriotic and evil. Secondly, while we were not bombed on American soil our allies abroad experienced attacks for supporting our unjust war in Iraq. But they don't count because they're not American... Right.

    January 5, 2009 10:43 pm at 10:43 pm |
  16. Bill, NJ

    Now that Bush is a lame duck, these guys are just trying to distance themselves from the utter disaster that defines his complete 8 years as president. They will all look to carry out the same policies as Bush; they will put party politics before the interests of the majority of the American people.

    January 5, 2009 10:44 pm at 10:44 pm |
  17. Tim

    Mike Duncan referrs to "the plans for the war."

    You mean to tel me that this administration actually had plans for Iraq? I was there in 2003, and I can tell you that they didn't have a clue. Who was staying, who was going, where forces were going to be put.

    Hey genius, there was no plan. Once again, Republicans out of touch with reality

    January 5, 2009 10:47 pm at 10:47 pm |
  18. Virginia

    armchair quarterbacks. pretty funny isn't it

    January 5, 2009 10:48 pm at 10:48 pm |
  19. Pat

    Sherrol in Canada January 5th, 2009 9:01 pm ET
    Send in the clowns!!!

    They're in, effective January 20, 2009!

    January 5, 2009 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
  20. martin

    I'm not sure why some people who comment here aren't glad that the GOP know that Bush has failed tremendously and that they need to change the party to be relevant in the future.

    I think now that the GOP has finally realized they need to change and become more inclusive, more innovative, and move into the 21st century in terms of ideas and technology, that its good for the entire country.

    If those people on the left only care about the left, our nation will be doomed. It is when both parties change and strive to be the best will this country grow and prosper.

    As a Democrat, I am glad the GOP is finally seeing the light. Let's hope they're successful at changing themselves so there is more cooperation in Congress and between the Executive and Legislative branches and less partisan fighting.

    January 5, 2009 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |
  21. JAE

    Obama IS NOT President yet. We'll see if he falls on his face right out of the gate. He shoots his mouth off, but, let's just see what he REALLY is made of.

    Lincoln freed the what? He did us NO favors.

    Barack has to PROVE himself first. We'll see how it goes STARTING ON JAN. 20TH. NOT BEFORE.

    January 5, 2009 10:56 pm at 10:56 pm |
  22. JAE

    Figures, because this is CNN, 99% of the remarks on here are Bush Bashings. What else would anyone expect from CNN's ULTRA LIBERAL, BLIND CITIZENS??

    You are ALL pathetic! Commies.

    January 5, 2009 10:59 pm at 10:59 pm |
  23. mrsb

    Kinda makes Bill Clinton's personal failings seem small............at least we had competent leadership and respect in the world.......we will pay for the damage done the last 8 years for many years. I hope we can recover.

    January 5, 2009 11:03 pm at 11:03 pm |
  24. Proud American

    Isn't it always the Village Elder Idiots fault?

    January 5, 2009 11:03 pm at 11:03 pm |
  25. Honorable Kansas Vet

    Actually, it is time for true Republicans to cast out the Southern Democrats, yes the beloved Dixiecrats that took hold of the Republican Party after Nixon, and ran rampant during the 90's up to now, cast out the make believes and reclaim the party of Lincoln. What exists as the Republican Party today is a disgrace to the Party of Lincoln, but Jefferson Davis is dancing a jig.

    January 5, 2009 11:04 pm at 11:04 pm |
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