Last week the GOP effectively threw Michael Steele out of his post as Chairman of the Republican National Committee. Steele forced the members to vote him out multiple times before finally giving up. In his place, the Republicans picked Reince Priebus. With the loss of Steele the Republicans will lose the only significant African-American voice they had in leadership. Steele’s replacement, is a white male, which may only add to the reputation of Republicans, right or wrong, as an all-white boys country club of sorts.
The chairman’s post is really about two overarching goals. The chairman needs to raise a lot of money and spend it well. Secondly, the chairman needs to be an effective spokesperson for the party.
Almost every analyst agrees that Steele did a poor job as chairman when it came to money. Steele’s lack of money management left the Republicans cash-strapped in 2010. In many state the GOP get-out-the-vote effort was virtually non-existent. At the end of the election, the Republican Party was reportedly over $20 million in debt. Republicans still made tremendous gains in 2010, but most believe this was in spite of, rather than because of Steele’s leadership.
Having said that, Steele was a fairly effective communicator. Steele was certainly guilty of some gaffes, but he usually got out the GOP talking points which is ultimately what the chairmanship is all about. In addition, Steele’s race gave the Republicans a great counter to the argument that the party’s dislike of President Obama was racially motivated. Republicans never explicitly made the argument, but with Steele appearance they were implicitly arguing that they could not possibly be racist if their chairman is an African-American. Steele himself would strongly refute any allegations of racism within his party.
With Steele gone the GOP is now devoid of any African-American in a significant leadership post. Speaker Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) are all white males. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Minority Leader Jon Kyl (R-AZ) are both white males. Of the 47 Republican Senators, none are African-American. Of the 242 Republican Representatives only two are African-American. None of the GOP House committee chairs are African-American.
Republicans do get more credit for diversity on the gender front. There are three Republican Senators who are women and 19 female representatives. In addition, Sarah Palin brings a strong female presence as perhaps the most powerful spokesperson for Republicans.
Having said that, it will be interesting to see if Republicans struggle with the “race issue” even more in 2012 due to the lack of racial diversity within their party. Rep. Allen West (R-FL) and Tim Scott (R-NC) have both demonstrated an ability to give a good interview since they became the only Republican African-Americans in the United States Congress. If the GOP is wise West and Scott will see a lot of camera time in the coming over the next two years in order to diffuse what may be a touchy issue for them.