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What now for Michael Steele's new Republican Party?

January 30, 2009 |  8:42 pm

Michael Steele the newly elected chairman of the Republican National Committee

In case you're one of the three or four American Republicans who have not yet congratulated Michael Steele for becoming the new chairman of the Republican National Committee, there's still a little time left.

As The Ticket noted earlier today, the 50-year-old former Maryland lieutenant governor became the first African American to head the party of the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln. It's always good to see more mustaches on public figures, a sign of great intelligence. Steele won 91-77 in a field of five at day's start. (See his video remarks below.)

Steele received congratulations from Govs. Bobby Jindal, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, a ton of party state chairpersons, Reps. Eric Cantor and John Boehner, Sen. Mitch McConnell, a bunch of other senators, all Republicans and, shockingly, the entire Republican Governors Assn., among many others.

Steele even got congratulations from someone named Tim Kaine, a Democrat governor who just became chairman of the Democratic National Committee to build up his Washington credentials most likely to become President Obama's VP running mate in 2012, when Joe Biden will be too old to stand next to the Boss and not say anything.

There are two main purposes to such perfunctory political messages and neither has anything to do with the verbal boilerplate used about honored, delighted, pleased, yada-yada. The first purpose of issuing such a public congratulations, when you can simply just text or phone the guy yourself, is to ride the principal's coattails and get your own name in the news.

The second, less recognized, is to sigh silently to yourself, "Thank God, he got the job, not me."

Steele is a moderate conservative, well-liked, someone who listens well, despite his D.C. upbringing. He was known as a team player and team builder during his own days on the 168-member RNC. And he'll need all that to play a major role in maintaining the party's still impressive fundraising while rebuilding its structure, technology and morale after significant defeats.

Importantly, he's a very experienced and savvy media player who can put a fresh voice to the party often associated with old white guys opposed to stuff. If he's active and aggressive in that area, he can displace the political pretenders and showmen who tend to fill the leadership vacuum left when both George W. Bush and Dick Cheney walked out the door. At least Ronald Reagan left behind an experienced sitting vice president to hold the White House for four more years.

Steele's also going to have to count on the GOP's 22 surviving governors for ideas and successes and candidates; the GOP always does better nationally with a chief executive as its candidate, not a congressman, with all due respect to ex-Rep. Lincoln.

Whatever your political affiliation, it's important for an enduring democracy to have at least two functioning political parties for balance and the generation of challenges and new ideas. In that sense even the most excited and partisan Democrats have a vital stake now in the successful cyclical cleansing and reconstruction of the other party. 

We published the complete text of Steele's brief remarks here this afternoon. They're worth reading, the story of an inner city kid who rose in the ranks of politics and knows firsthand about exclusion. One of his goals is to broaden the Republican Party's base beyond the small towns, suburbs and South. One striking thing he said was:

We're going to bring this party to every corner, every boardroom, every neighborhood, every community, and we're going to say to friend and foe alike, we want you to be a part of us, we want you to work with us, and for those of you who wish to obstruct, get ready to get knocked over.

An indication perhaps that Chairman Steele intends to live up to his name.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo credit: Associated Press

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