POLITICS
01/29/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Chip Saltsman Leads GOP To Soul-Searching Period

The Republican National Committee is set to host a historic series of discussions and debates in early January that will likely affect not just the future platform of the party, but the makeup and racial dynamics of its members.

The forums come at a time when the GOP is undergoing an intense bout of political soul-searching, made even more urgent by revelations that a leading RNC chair candidate distributed a racially insensitive CD as a Holiday gift.

Well aware that the party must expand and diversify, Republican officials are scheduled to use the upcoming events to discuss race and the inclusiveness of the GOP.

"[Race] is going to be a large piece of it," said Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform and a moderator of one of the debates. "There will be the immigration and Hispanic issues. There will be the immigration issue with respect to Asians and Pakistanis and Muslims. There will even be [discussion of] Mormon issues. All of those things will be very important."

The same topics will likely be addressed during the RNC's own scheduled meeting that same week. The proceedings will also cover strategic and procedural matters such as establishing a primary calendar, using more advanced technology, and enhancing the party's GOTV efforts.

In private, GOP officials admit to being at a politically dangerous crossroads when it comes to minorities. Reaction to Chip Saltsman's distribution of a CD including the song "Barack the Magic Negro" has been mixed. James Richardson, a former RNC staffer, called it "political suicide." Current RNC chair Mike Duncan said he was "shocked and appalled." But Ken Blackwell, the African-American former Ohio Attorney General and another candidate for the chairmanship, dismissed criticism as "hypersensitivity in the press."

"Look, the GOP needs to be inclusive and more sensitive," a high-ranking Republican explained to the Huffington Post. "On the other hand if we are going to fall apart in pieces every time someone yells racism than we are going to lose the next four years.... Because that means that the left is allowed to talk about race but we are not. There has got to be a way to talk about the president's agenda without falling into this trap."

All of which should make the early January forum and debates -- as well as the campaign for RNC chair -- fertile ground for the media and the politically-obsessed. Democrats who study long-term political trends say with some certainty that the GOP isn't going to remedy its deficits among black and Latino voters simply by appointing an African-American like Blackwell to the top post. After all, a Cuban-American (Sen. Mel Martinez) chaired the committee in 2007 only to resign from the job and the Senate altogether -- partially, it's believed, out of dismay over the GOP's racial intolerance.

Rather, the GOP may need to entirely revamp its approach towards minorities in particular and politics in general if the party wants to regain a grip on power.

"The core play in the GOP playbook for 44 years has been the magic negro playbook," said Simon Rosenberg, head of Democratic organization NDN and one of the most well-versed party figures on racial politics. "They don't have another play or another playbook. Whether it is Willie Horton, or welfare queens and tax and spend, or the way they have dealt with immigration... they don't have a play in their playbook that doesn't start with the exploitation of racial divisions... They are going to have to reject 44 years of GOP politics in order to have any chance in the 21st century America."