Friday, July 23, 2010

The man in the empty chair

Jonathan Martin of The Politico reported on Thursday that Norm Coleman, former Minnesota senator and odd man out in that state’s interminable recount battle with Al Franken, is seriously weighing a bid for the chairman’s post of the Republican National Committee.

Coleman, said to have fundraising expertise (after the Franken saga, he damn well should have) and known to be a center-right Republican figure who's been building his bona fides, wouldn’t actively pursue the post until after the November elections.

"Coleman is planning to attend the RNC’s summer meeting next month in Kansas City, in part to be on hand for a tribute to longtime New Jersey Committeeman David Norcross, who is stepping down from his party post," Martin reports. "But senior Republicans say the former senator’s appearance at the committee’s gathering will also allow him to meet the party members who will pick the next chairman and signal to them that he’s interested in the job."

It’s way too soon to know how serious Coleman is. The field could fill up by year’s end with other possibles: maybe Marc Racicot would seek another bid at the helm of the RNC, and you can’t overlook the prospects for Ken Blackwell, the former Ohio secretary of state and the vice RNC chairman who lost his bid for the top job — to the current chairman, the deeply embattled, perversely self-wounding Michael Steele.

But what’s clear right now is just how badly this compromises an already compromised chairman. It’s been not exactly insider knowledge that the Republican Party wants Steele gone. Sooner the better.

In the time since he took over, the RNC has been performing a five-spiral crash in slow motion, with Steele at the periphery, or the center of, a serious decline in fundraising, numerous intemperate and sometimes outright bizarre statements of philosophy, and the embarrassment of party associations with a bondage nightclub in Los Angeles.

Analysts and thought leaders have been debating for months when or whether Steele would be formally removed from his post. All of a sudden, it really doesn’t matter. With Coleman’s name bandied about, and more sure to follow, the end result is that months before the election, Steele has already been defanged as the leader of the RNC, his potency neutralized by the very speculations of his replacement. In practical political terms, Michael Steele is the RNC chairman on his business cards, and nowhere else.

Image credit: Michael Steele: Daily Caller.

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