Monday, February 2, 2009

Following two consecutive national election losses, the Republican Party has been in disarray. President Barack Obama’s victory and the Democrat seizure of both houses of Congress in November were as much a stinging indictment of the GOP as an endorsement of the campaigns of its opponents (as well-oiled as the latter were). Yet with the election of former Maryland lieutenant governor and GOPAC leader Michael Steele as chairman of the Republican National Committee on Friday, anemic conservatives will get new blood. He seems the right person to rebuild and expand the movement. With a $300 million war chest at his command and with his innovative, Internet-savvy approach, he is capable of transforming the political landscape within his two-year tenure.

His sixth-ballot victory, following more than two months of intense lobbying for the post, came despite early reports that the charismatic Fox News commentator might be too - gasp - moderate to retain the support of the core of the party. He has already reassured the base that he will be true to them, spending much of the weekend reaching out - and in many cases assuaging - leading GOP fiscal and social conservatives, as reported by the Times’ Ralph Hallow. Mr. Steele, who trained for three years to be a Catholic priest before becoming a lawyer, understands the value - and beauty - of the traditional family. He is also firmly pro-life, even tough he is willing to broaden the GOP tent to accommodate pro-choicers.

Solidifying the base in itself does little or nothing to expand it, and if done by a dolt would only cause the GOP to be a perpetual minority. Mr. Steele is visionary enough, and smart enough, to know he must expand the “brand” to attract the broad middle. He has said repeatedly that the main failure of the GOP has not been its ideals, but its leadership, which “behaved like Democrats” and embraced big-government policies. He is first and foremost calling for a return to the pro-family, fiscal conservatism that was the bedrock of the Reagan Revolution.

This is necessary but not sufficient, as scientific theorists might postulate. The new RNC chairman has pledged to go beyond restoring credibility to crafting a plan reaching out to new voters. This includes appealing to blacks, Hispanics, women, independents, the young, the poor and workers. He has a vision to redefine the conservative movement: “We have an image problem,” he said shortly after his victory. “For so long we’ve allowed the Democrats to define us. We’ve allowed the media to define us.” Mr. Steele is calling for a “brand new message,” and that is sorely needed.

Oh, did we forget to mention that he is the first African-American to lead the RNC? It is indeed a new day. Mr. Steele’s leadership of the GOP gives blacks, Hispanics and all minorities a clearer, more visible choice among the two parties - especially if Mr. Steele succeeds in making them feel welcome as he touts the values of self-reliance, freedom, hard work, independence, faith and family.

Watch out, liberals (i.e., Democratic majority): There is a worthy opponent on the horizon.

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