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Republicans Cheer for Chairman Steele

Posted in News by Dy Allo on February 1, 2009

HOW TOKEN CAN YOU GET?

Republicans Cheer for Chairman Steele

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In the United States, in 2009, the head of the Democratic Party and the head of the Republican Party are black.

Granted, one has much more power than the other. (One is titular, the other is de jure.)

And one may have been chosen in reaction to the other.

But — for a party that was not too longer ago openly dedicated to a strategy of using racial fears to attract white votes, it’s something.

In a short stemwinder, Steele promised to broaden the party’s geographic base and “stand proud” as the country’s conservative party.

“It’s time for something completely different,” he said, to cheers.

 “To my friends in the Northeast, get ready baby, we’re going to turn it on.  We’re going to win in the Northeast.  We’re going to continue to win in the South… In the West.”

“To those who are ready to obstruct,” he warned. “[G]et ready to get knocked over.”

Did Republicans choose Steele as a token? Some RNC members will think so, as will many skeptical Democrats.  But Steele won this thing by himself.  The RNC is a fractious, uncooperative bunch. And Steele patiently politicked his way through six ballots. Just a few hours ago, my correspondent Will DiNovi saw Steele and Ohio’s Kenneth Blackwell face to face in the hall. “I know we’ve disagreed on a lot of things,” Steele was telling him. Blackwell waited a little — then he endorsed Steele.

Steele’s election won’t help the party attrack black voters immediately, but if Steele sets the right tone, he could help the party compete for them in the (way)  future.  As GOP strategists have always known, and noted, somewhat dyspeptically, it’s white suburban voters, particularly women, who are responsive to a diversity message. The RNC isn’t diverse yet; only five black delegates were chosen to attend the national convention. Steele was disgusted by that. It prompted him to run.

Even more than race, even as Steele lauded the party’s conservative members, his election marks a step away from the balkanized Southern white ethos of the party. Steele, pro-life, has worked with moderate Republicans all of his life, although he did his best during the campaign to minimize those ties. If he reverts to form, it means that the RNC has just selected a chairman who will not prioritize social issues above economic issues.  When people speak of broadening the party’s geographic diversity, they are speaking in code. They mean that the party needs to welcome more moderates; needs to be more forgiving of departures from orthodoxy; need to be less antagonistic to pro-choicers and gays.   

A Democratic strategist sums up their skepticism about Steele’s transformative powers. “I rememberhiring homeless people to hand out literature in African American neighborhoods. If that is their national strategy to broaden their appeal to minority voters it’s going to get awfully expensive,” this strategist said.

 

Steele was a seminarian for a few years before getting his law degree. He is trained in corporate litigation.

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