- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 29, 2009

EXCLUSIVE:

SAN DIEGO | The latest shots in the war over the Republican Party’s ideological future will come Thursday morning in a battle over who will head the Republic National Committee’s Rules Committee, according to RNC members.

Tensions have been mounting over party philosophy and direction to degrees not seen in years by the Republicans’ national governing body as its 168 members from 50 states and six territories gather here for the first summer meeting convened by the new national chairman, Michael S. Steele.

At issue is who emerges as chairman of the 56-member Rules Committee — a moderate backed by Mr. Steele or one of the two conservative candidates.

Some members say the outcome matters because the winner assumes a powerful post that could tilt the 2012 presidential nomination playing field, while others say panelists wish to free themselves from the national chairman.

The contestants in Thursday’s election are Jim Greer of Florida, considered a moderate; and Bruce Ash of Arizona and Curly Haugland of North Dakota, both viewed as conservatives. RNC members and panel alumni once shy about blasting each other in public have drawn unusually stark battle lines.

“Greer is the single most disliked guy on the RNC — that would be my guess,” former South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson, who lost a hard-fought contest for RNC chairman to Mr. Steele in January, told The Washington Times. “Curly should win the rules chairmanship but [Mr. Steele’s] paid staff is working against Haugland.”

Mr. Greer, an ally of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist as well as Mr. Steele, already has reminded Rules Committee members that he has the chairman’s backing, an act that ruffled feathers on the famously independent-minded panel.

“As many of you are aware, Chairman Steele recently asked me to serve as Rules Committee Chairman and seek election from the committee membership,” Mr. Greer said in a July 8 letter.

In his letter, Mr. Greer also reminds the panelists that the RNC requires that the rules panel operate openly and fairly, and that “no hidden agendas or actions that would be deemed disruptive or detrimental to the party be permitted to occur.”

Some Rules Committee members interpreted those words as a threat to the emergence of two conservative caucuses within the full RNC that have been critical of Mr. Steele and seek to move the committee and the party to the right.

On the other side of the Rules panel race, former Reagan White House official Morton Blackwell of Virginia endorsed Mr. Ash and took a shot at what many conservatives see as Mr. Greer’s top-down, authoritarian leadership style.

“Like me, Bruce believes that the rules of the Republican Party should not be manipulated in order to provide a special advantage to any group or campaign,” wrote Mr. Blackwell, long a behind-the-scenes power on the RNC, in the letter to Rules Committee members and selected members of the broader RNC.

“Bruce told me he does not wish for our rules committee to devolve into the model practiced by the Democratic Party. We are a political party which believes in rule of law,” he said in the letter, dated July 20 but not circulated until Wednesday when it was the talk of the meeting as members began to arrive here.

Although Mr. Dawson backs Mr. Haugland, he also had some good words for Mr. Ash as well as taking veiled shots at both Mr. Steele and Mr. Greer.

“Bruce Ash is well liked by most where they know him, and [he] is not a showboat,” he told The Times.

Part of the suspicion among anti-Greer members centers on the role that both Mr. Crist and Mr. Greer, the state party chairman at the time, played in helping secure the 2008 GOP presidential nomination for Arizona Sen. John McCain, one of the most disliked Republicans among the party base.

Florida held its primary Jan. 29, in violation of RNC rules, but the presidential contenders went ahead and campaigned there anyway, with Mr. McCain, helped by the endorsements of both Mr. Crist and Mr. Greer, winning.

The victory and Florida’s winner-take-all delegate system gave Mr. McCain a big boost in national press coverage and knocked former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani out of the race.

The RNC took away half of Florida’s delegation to the national convention in St. Paul, Minn., a sanction Mr. Greer unsuccessfully resisted. But losing the delegates didn’t matter since Mr. McCain had the race won long before the August convention began.

In the face of that history, RNC conservatives are hinting to Rules Committee members that Mr. Greer may similarly manipulate the 2012 primary calendar against conservative or pro-life candidates.

“After doing some checking, I learned that Mr. Greer has made numerous rule changes in Florida,” Texas RNC member Cathy Adams said. “I am concerned about centralizing power by rules changes.” Despite the conservative rebellion, some members favor Mr. Greer either because of his views or for personal reasons.

Ohio RNC member Bob Bennett, who was the longest-serving state chairman on the committee until this year when he ran for national committeeman instead, is a pro-choice Republican who told The Washington Times: “All politics is personal. I’m supporting Jim Greer.”

For others, its not ideology but competence or perhaps payback for old rivalries. Randy Ruedrich, chairman of the Alaska party and another Greer supporter, explained his decision by saying that “Ash is absolutely unacceptable.

“He does not understand process nor logic. He could not even introduce an amendment to a resolution last year,” said Mr. Ruedrich, who lost a fight with Mr. Ash over a spot on the Resolutions Committee in December.

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