Expressing an obvious disdain for the term “outreach,” Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, called the word “dead to me,” during a conference call briefing for GOP Coalition leaders last night. He forever banished the term from the halls of the historic brick white building on 310 First Street. Steele considers the term useless, as it apparently represents a sort of fifth-wheel after-thought approach to expanding the party’s base.
Despite former RNC chairmen Ed Gillespie and Ken Mehlman’s unprecedented attempts to reach out to minorities from 2000-2006 (and subsequent gains made in these voting blocs), Steele slammed past efforts as woefully inadequate. He said the party would show up, have an outreach event and that was it. “No follow-up, nothing,” Steele said. “In the past only lip service was given to this,” he added. Ironically, Steele was among many of the minority surrogates and speakers who took part in the “outreach” tours conducted by Gillespie and Mehlman. (Full disclosure: I was also a part of this team from 2004-2007). For the record, I recall that Ken Mehlman was no fan of the term “outreach” either, but swallowed it reluctantly. Responding to the apparent slight, Gillespie told me:
“There have been efforts in the past that started and ended with a press release, but I’m proud of the work we did in the 2003-2004 cycle and believe it was a big part of the two percentage point gain with black voters and 9 percentage point gain with Latino voters between 2000 and 2004.”
Steele says his new effort is based on full integration coalition building. He has now taken the Coalitions arm, which was previously housed under the RNC’s Political Unit and made it a “stand alone” department, with a budget. It will be “fully integrated into all aspects of the the RNC.” The chairman was emphatic: “I want coalitions to be proactive and to matter.” Steele has named former RNC staffer (circa 2003) and businesswoman Angela Sailor, to head the unit which he says will be staffed to the hilt with personnel from grassroots activists, to the business community and technology gurus.
“We took our message consistently to communities where the RNC had not often had a presence. Whatever the effort is called, the follow up is important,” Gillespie said.
Criticized recently by the press and conservative bloggers for his “hip-hop” lingo, Steele clarified his remarks on the call. He said his intent is not to change the message but appeal to a broader audience by implementing a state-by-state, grassroots strategy that encourages party activists to be sensitive to the regions and communities they work in — whether its rural, suburban or urban.
“Our efforts have to connect locally and empower nationally.. One that embraces not repels.. We will strengthen our base and our principles will be in tact, but we must broaden our appeal,” Steele insisted.
The Coalitions restructuring is part of a complete overhaul of the RNC by the new chairman. Steele attempted to sooth reported internal concerns about the party’s organizational structure and lack of communication. He emphasized that a transition phase of his “Blueprint” is currently underway, with a focus on “building from the grassroots up.” It is expected that more hirings will take place within the next 30 days, with an official rollout and strategy implementation to begin on April 1st.