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Taylor West

Taylor West

Posted: March 30, 2010 10:20 AM

A Tale of Two Chairmen

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RNC Chairman Michael Steele has become a recurring nightmare for his party. A comically consistent series of gaffes have kept the RNC in the news for all the worst reasons, and as Sam Stein reports, Republican donors and strategists are having a hard time hiding their disdain. The latest scandals -- revolving around absurd expenditures on nightclubs, swank hotels, private jets, and limo services -- are only solidifying Steele's reputation as both an ineffective manager and an ego-driven loose cannon only interested in using the Chairman's position to live high and promote his own interests.

When Steele was elected, many Republican strategists breathed a sigh of relief. His main competitor, Katon Dawson, was a South Carolinian with a good ol' boy streak a mile wide and a membership in a whites-only golf club just to drive the point home. For a GOP reeling from two disastrous election cycles and facing demographic trends that threatened slow-motion extinction, there were many in the party who believed a charismatic, energetic, and yes, non-white Chairman would help set a new tone for the party heading into 2009. (As a Democratic strategist, I agreed with them, and couldn't help but be disappointed when Dawson lost out in the end.)

A little over a year later, as the unforced errors, prima donna moments, and wild message detours have mounted, Steele has been at best a distraction and at worst a true detriment to the committee's most important roles: driving a consistent Republican narrative and raising money to support the party's 2010 candidates.

Compare that disastrous record to Steele's counterpart on the other side of the aisle - DNC Chairman Tim Kaine. Where Steele has been a rogue agent, a self-promoter, and a faux-pas factory, Kaine has been all consistency, effectiveness, and message discipline, even as the environment has turned dramatically tougher for Democrats.

Don't look now, but under Tim Kaine, the DNC has raised more money than ever under the current campaign finance laws, making them directly competitive with the RNC for the first time in recent memory. Despite tough losses in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, Democrats have won five special elections -- often a purer test of party organization and effectiveness than higher-profile general contests -- including ones in Republican-leaning districts. And after a long, hard year, it turns out that we've accomplished a historic Democratic agenda.

Through it all, Governor Kaine has been one of the Democrats' most reliable surrogate voices, both publicly and privately, with nary a message misstep to his name.

When the President named Kaine to the Chairman's job, there was an element of the unexpected to it. Kaine was serving his final year as Virginia's governor, and despite his convincing 2005 victory in deeply purple Virginia, he wasn't typically thought of as a political operator. But those who have worked with him (as I was fortunate to have in that 2005 campaign) know that he combines genuine conviction and substance with a sharp competitive instinct and a willingness to throw the smart punch.

Just as importantly, Governor Kaine embodies the "No Drama" motto that carried the day in the Obama campaign and, arguably, in the end-game of the health care reform debate.

It's the kind of solid, un-flashy performance that often flies under the radar. Indeed, there are those who have complained that Kaine is too "boring" for the high-profile chairman's role. But as we watch Michael Steele's RNC going through its latest fire drill, I'd bet there are a whole lot of Republicans who'd be happy to make a trade.

 

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