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Can Romney Save the Republican Party?

11:58 AM, Dec 4, 2008 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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The next chairman, or any chairman, of the Republican National Committee must possess three skills: management ability, fundraising prowess, and press savvy. Given the current disarray of the party, it would seem obvious that management ability would be the most important of these three qualities. Unfortunately, the selection process -- a vote by members of the committee -- makes any assumption extremely dangerous. What one needs to keep in mind above all else in handicapping this race is that members of the committee tend to trust their own -- and that this election will make a Republican primary look like a vote by the United Nations General Assembly.

Those following the race closely have some confidence that the nature of the selection process will tilt things toward current Chairman Mike Duncan if he seeks reelection, as he seems likely to do. Duncan was a very successful fundraiser and a fine party manager. He would not provide a break with the past, and he would remain a weak advocate for the party with few television appearances, but there are those who believe that money is the key to future success, and Duncan can bring home the bacon.

The current field also includes two other committee members, South Carolina Chair Katon Dawson and Michigan Chair Saul Anuzis. Both are real contenders, and both have demonstrated a competency in management, but neither is a fundraising or media superstar. Michael Steele is the one guy currently in the race who is a media superstar, but he has other drawbacks. Steele is one of the best communicators the party has -- intelligent, patient, and principled in his conservatism. He will be a star either way this election shakes out, but there are worries about whether he would be a good fit as RNC chair. Steele was a lackluster fundraiser in Maryland, and he made no secret of the fact that he didn't enjoy that part of his job as Lt. Governor. Steele also claimed the endorsement of Newt Gingrich, a claim that Gingrich's people subsequently knocked down. This was a major miscue, and may have been the death of Steele's candidacy.

Which brings us to Mitt Romney. Romney has not expressed any desire to do the job, and the committee members have expressed no desire to see him run. Because of those two small problems, the odds that we see Romney as RNC chair are slim to none. Still, humor me. If the Republican party were a business, it would be General Motors, or maybe Ford if one were feeling more charitable. Like Ford, the Republican party is a failing business that could, with good management, a lot of money, and some new products, once again become profitable. There is no one in America who has a better record than Mitt Romney at turning around failing enterprises, there is no Republican who can better deliver a message, and there is no Republican (except Palin perhaps) who can raise as much money.

It strikes me that one of Romney's biggest problems in the 2008 primary, perhaps second only to having to contend with the McCain biography, was that it wasn't clear what he had ever done for Republican voters. He hadn't fought on the front lines in any of the party's major battles, he hadn't contributed anything to the party's philosophy. He seemed to be asking a lot of Republicans without having paid his dues. That's not true anymore, but Romney could earn a tremendous amount of good will were he to reform the party and help put together a successful 2010 election. And with Republicans having no other real power base, Romney would have the spotlight largely to himself in a time of economic crisis.

For Romney to win this election would be no easy feat, but if he pulled it off he just might save the party.