As I was leaving the RNC meeting at the Capitol Hilton tonight, a few black SUVs pulled up in the driveway, and former President George H.W. Bush emerged from the backseat of one. Walking with the help of a cane, he entered the lobby, where newly elected RNC chairman Michael Steele was shaking hands and posing for pictures. Bush and Steele greeted each other and hugged, while Republicans who were still gathered having drinks at the bar looked on and applauded the former prez as he walked to the elevators.
One of the main selling points among Michael Steele’s supporters was his ability to effectively communicate, and his first press conference since being elected chairman went smoothly.
“This is a new moment for our party,” he said, noting that Republicans didn’t live up to the Contract With America. “This is a dawn of a new party, moving in a new direction, with strength of conviction.”
Asked whether he would come to the defense of Rush Limbaugh, Steele said Limbaugh has a right to say what he wants, and that, “Rush can handle himself and he seems to be doing a good job of it right now.”
And to grassroots conservatives, he had a message: “Get ready to work.”
I’d like to go back and watch it again, but I think that Ken Blackwell’s speech withdrawing from the race and throwing his support behind Michael Steele, and urging the Republican Party to once again show itself to be the party of Lincoln, was an important symbolic moment. It represented the triumph of a younger, more inclusive generation over the old guard. Steele was a relative outsider in the sense that he was not an active state party chair, while to those voting, Katon Dawson was one of their own. I didn’t have a dog in this fight and have my own doubts about how effective Steele will be as a manager. But there was just no way that the Republican Party could take a step backward, and elect Dawson, a man who had a long membership to a whites-only country club and who talked about how desegregation turned him into a conservative.
“As a little boy growing up in this town, this is awesome,” Michael Steele said in accepting the chairmanship of the RNC. He vowed to take the conservative message to every boardroom and community and expand the map of the Republican Party.
“For those of you that wish to obstruct, get ready to get knocked over,” he said
Steele went on to add that “To my friends in northeast, get ready baby, it’s time to turn it on.” He said Republican Party would expand in the midwest, and win the west once again.
“We stand proud as the conservative party of the United States,” he said.
He had 91 votes.
Now we have 20 votes up for grabs. Steele needs 6 of them, and Dawson needs 16.
But he’s still six votes short of the required 85:
STEELE: 79 (+19)
DAWSON: 69 (+7)
ANUZIS: 20 (-11)
In his speech, Blackwell talked about the GOP being the party of Lincoln and of needing to have a chairman who could inspire hope and create new oppourtunities.
DAWSON: 62 (+28)
STEELE: 60 (+9)
ANUZIS: 31 (+7)
BLACKWELL: 15 (No Change)
He’s speaking now, recongnizing “the winds of change” in the room. He did not publicly endorse anybody. There are now 44 votes up for grabs, so now it gets interesting.