Ordinarily, the identity of the party chairman doesn't matter very much. The proof
of this is that the current chairman of the Republican National Committee is Mike
Duncan. I hadn't heard of him, either.
This is because the president is always the leader of his party. The leaders in the
House and Senate usually play this role for the opposition party.
But for at least the next two years, the Republicans in Congress will be, for all
practical purposes, irrelevant. Democratic majorities in the House and Senate are so
large the only restraint upon them and President Obama will be public opinion. How
far to the left can they go without risking a backlash?
The party chairman is usually mostly a fund-raiser and a technician. But this is
one of those rare times in history when the chairman of the Republican National
Committee will have to function as the chief spokesman for the party, it's primary
The traditional roles will be more important than ever, too. Republicans got
creamed in every phase of the game by a superbly run Obama machine, which isn't
going to go away anytime soon. Democrats raised vastly more money. Democrats were
far better at contacting voters especially young voters and getting them to
the polls. Democrats pioneered new technologies while Republicans remained stuck in
Republicans are intellectually out of gas. Ronald Reagan was a great president. The
principles he espoused so well are timeless, and Republicans have paid a steep (but
well deserved) price for having deviated from them. But Ronald Reagan is dead, and
repeatedly invoking his name will not bring him back. We need leaders who can look
forward as well as back. And for the time being, the most important place to have
such a leader is as chairman of the Republican National Committee.
The RNC will select a new chairman soon. The new leader needs to be a man of ideas
and vision who can communicate them well, and a superb fund-raiser who is
comfortable with the new technologies. But Ronald Reagan is, as I've noted,
unavailable, and Superman and Batman exist only in comic books.
But there is a man whose time has come, or, rather, returned.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has character flaws that would keep me from
supporting him for high elective office (I can't stand the way he treated his first
two wives). And as Speaker, he was a mediocre legislative leader.
But if Mr. Gingrich wasn't much good at exercising power, few have ever been better
at knowing how to get it. As a legislative guerrilla, Mr. Gingrich was without
peer. He understood the power of ideas. He had lots of ideas, and knew how to
market them. Few have been more successful in raising money for an out of power
party than he was. It was Mr. Gingrich, not Reagan, who was responsible for the GOP
takeover of Congress in 1994, which almost all observers at the time thought was
Mr. Gingrich is experienced in the ways of Washington. But perhaps because he is
a natural outsider he hasn't gone native, as so many of the Republicans who came
to Washington in 1994 did.
As noted above, Mr. Gingrich is not without his flaws. He's terrific at thinking up
and expressing ideas, not so good at getting them implemented into legislation. But
the job of Republican National Chairman is one in which his strengths would be
amplified, his flaws less consequential. And there is no one else out there who
comes remotely close to him in providing what's needed in an RNC chairman now.
Mr. Gingrich should appoint as his deputy the young, brilliant, Web-savvy Patrick
Ruffini. Mr. Ruffini and a group of under 40 GOP operatives already have prepared a
sensible ten point plan to use the Internet as effectively as the Obama campaign
used it this year.
The silver lining in the kind of defeat the GOP suffered this year is the impetus it
gives to clearing out the deadwood. With Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Ruffini at the helm,
the now moribund Republicans could come back to life faster than almost anyone now