A top national GOP official has outmaneuvered dissatisfied members of his party's ruling body in an ongoing power struggle over the future leadership of the party.
Led by North Dakota GOP Chairman Gary Emineth, the dissatisfied members had succeeded in getting the requisite 19 states to formally force Robert M. "Mike" Duncan, the Republican National Committee chairman, to call a special meeting of the full 168-member committee for early January, before the regular Jan. 28-31 annual meeting of the committee.
The Emineth-led members wanted the special meeting of the full membership to be held on the same day that a rump group of about 86 self-described conservative members of the committee, styled as the Conservative Steering Committee, had scheduled a meeting.
The petition to Mr. Duncan was quite explicit: "In order to afford an opportunity for all members of the Republican National Committee to participate in an official closed meeting of the Republican National Committee for the expressed purpose to hear presentations from all persons seeking election as officers of the Republican National Committee, petitioners hereby request that the Chairman issue a call, today, for a special meeting of the Republican National Committee on Jan. 6, 2009."
The Steering Committee said its purpose was to interview all six candidates for national chairman and decided which of them are acceptably conservative.
But if all 168 RNC members met on the same day as the Steering Committee and also interviewed and judged all the national chairman candidates, it would trump impact of the planned straw poll by the smaller Steering Committee to determine acceptable conservative choices.
But Mr. Duncan on Monday informed the RNC members that he had decided to hold the special meeting on Jan. 7, adding a financial and time burdens on members who planned to make their way to Washington on Jan. 5 for a C-SPAN televised debate among the six candidates, sponsored by Americans for Tax Reform. Those who were invited to the rump session the Jan . 6 would then have pay hotel and food costs for that second day and if they planned to attend the general meeting on Jan 7, food and lodging costs for yet a third day. Committee members not considered conservative enough to be invited to the Steering committee meeting would nonetheless have to for three days food and shelter if they planned to attend the Jan 5 debate.
Frustrated by Mr. Duncan's move, Mr. Eminent and California RNC members Shawn Steel wrote Mr. Duncan a letter dated Dec. 30 insisting the meeting special meeting be held Jan. 6, as called for in the petitions sent to Mr. Duncan, instead of Jan 7. But under the rules. Mr. Duncan is perfectly free to chose the Jan. 7 date.
"Having the Special Meeting on Wednesday Jan 7 is extraordinarily inconvenient and does not follow the wishes of the formal petition presented to your office on Friday," Mr. Emineth and Mr. Steele wrote to Mr. Duncan.
"Therefore we ask you to follow the expressed request of the Petition to hold the Special Meeting on Tuesday Jan 6."
Also, Mr. Emineth and Mr. Steele argue, "many RNC Members are concerned that an extra legal body called the 'Steering Committee' planned to have a private meeting with RNC candidates. Unlike the Norquist and the RNC Special Meeting, the Steering Committee is by invitation only and restricts almost one half of all RNC members. We believe that is exclusionary and potentially divisive.
The practical political aspect of all this elaborate maneuvering is that former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele's candidacy for national chairman stands less of a chance among the narrow group of conservatives many of them religious and social conservatives -- on the ad hoc Steering Committee who are suspicious of Mr. Steele's alliances with prochoice and pro-homosexual rights Republican organizations. The broader full RNC membership is thought to be more disposed toward Mr. Steele's candidate, which happened also to be backed by Shawn Steele, the California RNC member.