EXCLUSIVE: Rules fight seen as window to GOP’s future

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.

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About the Author
Ralph Z. Hallow

Ralph Z. Hallow

Chief political writer Ralph Z. Hallow served on the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Washington Times editorial boards, was Ford Foundation Fellow in Urban Journalism at Northwestern University, resident at Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar and has filed from Berlin, Bonn, London, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Belgrade, Bucharest, Panama and Guatemala.

 

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