- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Embattled Republicans are finding that even last week’s nationwide anti-bailout, anti-spending “tea-party” uprising can’t immediately cure a party struggling to pull itself together.

It’s not surprising that, confronting a popular Democratic president, riven by factions within its national governing body and with new Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele under fire from his own camp, the Republican Party has struggled to find its footing.

When Mr. Steele asked permission to address a Tax Day tea party in Chicago on Wednesday, national organizer Eric Odom said no. Mr. Odom, who called Mr. Steele a Johnny-come-lately to the free-market movement, said Mr. Steele was welcome to come and listen — but not to speak. An RNC spokesman then denied Mr. Steele had ever made the request.

Democrats grabbed this political fumble and ran with it.

Mr. Steele “has been dissed by the crew behind the Chicago tea party,” said Democratic National Committee spokesman Hari Sevugan.

Mr. Steele spent the day before the tea party in Chicago attending four fundraising events with grass-roots Republicans as well as major donors.

“Steele was warmly received. People were willing to give him another chance,” Fran Eaton, editor of the conservative Illinois Review, told The Washington Times. “I know there has been disappointment in the launching of his chairmanship.”

But on the afternoon of the tea-party protests, he turned down an invitation to address a major Chicago Young Republicans rally on Navy Pier that attracted as much media attention as the big tea party a few hours earlier in the heart of the city, YR President Jeremy Rose said.

Many top party officials were taken by surprise by the energy and size of the free-market rallies that began in mid-February, culminating last week in hundreds of tea parties nationwide. Some Republicans had more success than others in their attempts to race to the head of the parade.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who addressed the New York Tax Day event, said the movement should not be taken over by Republicans and should be “tri-party” — open equally to independents, Democrats and Republicans.

Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, a leading limited-government voice in the Republican Party, spoke at the tea party in Columbia, while 3,000 miles to the west, Republican House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio and Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California addressed a rally in Bakersfield, Calif.

The more conservative Republicans attack what they see as their own party’s Bush-era drift toward spending, statism and socialism, the more grass-roots success they appear to generate.

Uncertainty over the tea-party movement is not the only drag on Republican fortunes.

In Virginia, the party’s central committee cited incompetence as the reason for yanking the chairmanship from Jeffrey M. Frederick. It was the first time in memory that a sitting Republican state chairman has been ousted.

Democrats were quick to exploit the internal confusion there, too, painting the coup as one of Republican moderates clashing with conservatives in their ranks.

Powerful Virginia Republicans, including the top five statewide elected officials, blamed Mr. Frederick for allowing a Democratic presidential candidate in 2008 to carry the state for the first time since 1964. Republicans also lost three House seats in November.

Some Republicans saw the Virginia action as a warning to Mr. Steele that the once unthinkable — jettisoning a national chairman — has become a real possibility for a party in deep disarray.

Virtually since his Jan. 30 selection, Mr. Steele, 50, has been under fire from some fellow Republicans, who suspect him of being secretly pro-choice on abortion, favoring homosexual rights and not being aggressive enough in taking on the Democrats.

For the first time in memory, a formal rump group is operating openly within the 168-member Republican National Committee; 96 RNC members have signed on to the Conservative Steering Committee, whose designated purpose is keeping the RNC faithful to its principles.

As a sign of further splintering, 22 steering committee members have formed a still more perfect union on the right, called the Republican National Conservative Caucus, whose stated first loyalty is not to the Republican Party or the RNC.

“We are committed first to God, then to family, then to country, then to conservatism and only then to our political party,” RNCC founders said in their manifesto. “Consequently, although we are proud Republicans, we will not hesitate to hold everyone [to] account based on not only words, but also deeds, including ourselves, when we fail to adhere to founding principles.”

The two factions are pressing Mr. Steele to call a special meeting next month of the full Republican National Committee. The purpose, they said, would be to debate resolutions that criticize the Democrats’ “dedication to restructuring American society along socialist ideas” and that praise Republicans in Congress for opposing Democratic budget and spending bills.

Mr. Frederick told The Washington Times he may seek to get his job back at the annual Virginia Republican convention next month, opening up the possibility of more internal turmoil as the party gears up for a hotly contested gubernatorial race in November.

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