Sunday, February 1, 2009

Black Guys Now Run Both Parties, Judd Gregg at Commerce?

Michael Steele's Republican Party
I know that if you had asked me 5 years ago if we would have an African-American President by now, I certainly would've said no. But if you asked me which would come first -- a black President or a black leader of the Republican party, you would've heard a long pause.

Clearly in terms of national significance, Barack Obama's election as President carries a lot more than Michael Steele's election as head of the Republican National Committee, but Steele's election is very significant nonetheless.

Let me explain. When a party is in power in the White House, the President is its effective head. He gets to hand pick the head of the RNC and is looked to for policy guidance and policy building. Plus, he's the most powerful person in the world. But when a party is out of power in the executive branch, the National Committee head is the effective leader. This was the role Howard Dean played when the Democrats were set out in the wilderness and he drove bold new innovations around the use of technology in the party, and perhaps most consequentally, the 50-state strategy that led Democrats to contest and win elections in previously red strongholds like Montana, North Carolina, Kansas, etc.

Now, after a grueling, multiple-ballot process, former Maryland Lt. Gov and former Senate candidate Michael Steele has been elected to head the RNC and effectively the Republican Party.

I have lots of reasons for liking Steele. Firstly, I do applaud Republicans for picking an African-American. Some will criticize it as a Republican form of affirmative action. But Mr. Steele is far more than an empty suit. He is a highly skilled politican, who won election to statewide office as a Republican in a liberal state. He is a political moderate, and to large extent his election shows a break with the religious right, which is a welcome development to me.

So congratulations, Mr. Steele. And good luck remaking the Republican party. The nation is well served to have two viable choices and Steele takes over a national party in shambles. But, on the other hand, he picks up 5% nationally and the GOP is right back in the majority.

Judd Gregg for Commerce?
Inside reports indicate that President Obama may name Republican Senator Judd Gregg as his Commerce Secretary, a post originally offered to Bill Richardson, who withdrew amid a pay-for-play investigation in New Mexico.

Gregg is a reasonably moderate Republican, but certainly to the right of Obama economically and would be an interesting counterweight to some of the more liberal members of his cabinet. He would also be a key link to the hill as he is well respected within the GOP.

A potential hang-up is that Gregg does not want his potential post to impact the balance of congress. A deal has been discussed where Gregg would be named to the post with the understanding that a Republican would be named to replace him in the Senate. That could certainly be worked out, but it begs the question how committed Gregg would be to the role.

Anyway, back to the 2nd half of the Super Bowl.

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