Steele, Gingrich clash to take over RNC

The Republicans find themselves now where Democrats were four years ago.

By Thomas Schaller

Published November 11, 2008 5:50PM (EST)

The Washington Times is claiming an exclusive on the internal struggles between former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele for control of the Republican National Committee.

A behind-the-scenes battle to take the reins of the Republican National Committee is taking off between former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele.

Neither man will acknowledge his interest in the post, but Republicans close to each are burning up the phone lines and firing off e-mails to fellow party members in an effort to oust [the current] RNC Chairman ... in the wake of the second consecutive drubbing of Republican candidates at the polls.

A bevy of backers for each man, neither of whom is an RNC member, say the committee needs a leader who can formulate a counter-agenda to President-elect Barack Obama's administration and articulate it on the national stage.

If this infighting sounds like more reason for Democrats to rejoice, I'd advise caution. It was a good thing that Democrats had a big fight four years ago over the future of the Democratic National Committee. Right now, shakeups are just what the Republicans need.

And although Steele's race may make him seem like a good counterweight for Republicans in the Age of  Obama, if Gingrich really wants it I'd put my money on him. He's got far better connections to the Republican establishment, many of whom he helped train and elect. On the other hand, Howard Dean was not the establishment candidate by any stretch (sorry, Harold Ickes), and Dean managed to work the hustings of the rank-and-file party members to win. But while I wouldn't count out Steele either, the GOP tends to be a more establishment-run party.

One thing is certain: The RNC needs new blood. In fact, bonus points if you can even name the current RNC chairman  without googling him. He was so invisible during the 2008 cycle I was half-expecting to find his image on milk cartons. (The answer, by the way, is here.)

Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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