- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2000

As President-elect George W. Bush assembles his administration, he faces a rigorous challenge in a Congress more evenly divided than at any time in modern political life. With this election barely over, it's unlikely he has given much thought to putting together the political team that can help rebuild the Republican majority in both Houses in the next election. History is against him; voters are often unkind in a new president's first off-year election and positively brutal to minority presidents in that circumstance. He can face history head-on, in part, by making some history of his own and appointing a woman to lead the Republican Party.

First, a qualifier: If Mr. Bush wants Karl Rove in that position, then so be it. Mr. Rove was indispensable in returning the GOP to the Promised Land on Pennsylvania Avenue. He helped develop and execute a disciplined game plan on behalf of a great candidate, but the outcome was far from certain. Gov. Bush took on an aggressive, well-funded incumbent successor to a president presiding over a strong economy and peace everywhere. The turmoil in Florida obscures the fact that he fought Vice President Gore to a little better than a draw against all odds. Much credit goes to Mr. Rove, and Mr. Bush may well want to have his skills at the head of the party.

If not, there are good reasons to place a woman there. First, the GOP still doesn't have a great deal of senior women to represent it. That will change to some degree once Mr. Bush has completed his senior appointments. Even so, Condoleeza Rice and the women in the Cabinet will not be active politically in the manner an elected official or party chairman can be. In Congress, the choices are few. In the Senate, for the first time in its history, the Republican Conference will have a woman in its leadership: the very able and savvy Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas as vice chairman. The House has women in its leadership but the three most powerful and visible spots speaker, majority leader and majority whip remain in the old boys' club. Under such conditions, it is hardly extravagant to consider a woman as party chairman.

Secondly, in a paradox, while Mr. Bush did better with women voters than Republican presidential candidates in recent elections, the Democrats scored impressive gains with women candidates. This was very apparent in the Senate, where the GOP had no woman candidates for open or challenger seats. By contrast, four women Democratic candidates ran and won, including three against incumbent Republicans. Indeed, one of those women, the junior senator from New York, may become the standard-bearer of the Democratic Party.

Thus, it is a numbers game: The GOP needs all the senior women leaders it can muster just to play zone defense, much less man-to-man (so to speak), against the growing number of Democrat women. More than an anachronism, it's becoming a downright luxury to forego the placement of a woman at the head of the party.

This is no call for a quota. In fact, the final and best reason why Mr. Bush should appoint a woman as party chairman is to end the current practice by which the party chooses a chairman and a co-chairman, man and woman respectively, in rigid conformity to a quota-based practice that no longer makes sense, if it ever did. While it would probably take a couple of party election cycles for the state chairmen and committee men and women to end this prehistoric beast of a system through natural evolution, a newly elected president could kill it with a big-bang overnight.

There are plenty of candidates, too. Mr. Bush need look no further than the current co-chairman, Patricia Harrison, for a dynamic, intelligent, articulate and telegenic leader. A cruise missile during this election, she flew below the radar into virtually every state to raise money, campaign for candidates, and cause general havoc for the other side while advancing her party. She has earned the respect of the GOP apparatus and, having been elected under the old system, seems a fitting appointment should the governor seek a new world order at party headquarters.

There are others. If she does not wind up in the Cabinet, New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman bears consideration. So does Elizabeth Dole, who owns the distinction as the party's first woman presidential candidate. Why not Lynne Cheney, or Susan Molinari? Becky Norton Dunlop and Kay Cole James, Cabinet-level officials for former Virginia Gov. George Allen and now scholars at the Heritage Foundation? The pool of candidates is large but the point is a simple one: Women throw the grandest old parties.

A small business owner, Therese Shaheen is active in the Maryland GOP and with the Republican National Committee.

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