10 November 2010

Will the Republicans punish success?

Under the chairmanship of Michael Steele, the Republican party has rebounded from two consecutive thumpings at the polls to reclaim control of the House of Representatives. Over the past week, however, I've seen little inclination him to credit him with his party's success, and now I read that some Republicans want him to step down when his term expires and will challenge him if he seeks another.

The sort of turnover these Republicans demand is actually fairly routine. Howard Dean, who presided over the Democrats' recapture of Congress in 2006, and whose "50-state strategy" was emulated by Steele, wasn't exactly encouraged to stay on by a grateful party. Within the major parties themselves, rotation in office is deemed more desirable than it is in legislatures.

So far, no clear challenger has emerged in the event that Steele desires to stay. That should be no surprise, since the job of party chairman seems to come with no guarantee of gratitude for a job well done. At the same time, Steele's uncertainty on the throne reflects confusion among Republicans themselves over the cause of their success this year. To the extent that the Tea Party movement was not an actual creation of the Republican party -- leaving aside the extent to which it's been subsidized by GOP sympathizers in the private sector -- it's not unreasonable to question how much credit Steele should actually get for Tea-fueled victories. Given Americans' bipolar political consciousness, once a sufficient number of them had gotten themselves scared of the Obama administration and its policies, Republican success was assured regardless of who chaired the national committee.

It's probably telling that, at their moment of triumph, owed in large part to the more-or-less free support of the Tea Partiers, some Republicans have grown impatient with Steele, not just because of alleged deviations from radio-controlled ideological orthodoxy, but also if not primarily because they think he hasn't done enough as a fundraiser. Many Republicans probably consider fundraising the chairman's primary job, the party itself by implication being no more than a fundraising institution. In the wake of the Citizens United decision, however, money that might otherwise have gone to the GOP is going to sympathetic but unaffiliated groups who can offer donors the benefit of anonymity, if not more. While Republican candidates rarely have viable opponents to their right, the party itself has rivals for the free-speech dollar of reactionaries all over the country. Under such circumstances, success for Republican candidates doesn't translate exactly into success for the party as a fundraising entity. Shouldn't Steele get some credit, though, for helping ensure that the TPs didn't go off the grid and get behind independent candidates. If so, shouldn't he get more credit for easing the fundraising burden on Republicans? It looks as if some Republicans would rather have shouldered that burden, as long as it brought them more money. That should make you wonder what their true priorities are.

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