GOP’s Steele – political elite has been blind-sided

February 4, 2010

Recent electoral wins have pulled the Republican Party out of a tailspin that started at the height of its power in 1994, but it will be well-selected local candidates, more than the national party, that drives the agenda in November’s mid-term elections.

So says Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee.

USA-POLITICS/REPUBLICANSMost political pundits expect the GOP to pick up many House and Senate seats in the fall as part of a backlash against the incumbent Democrats and frustration over the weak economy and high unemployment.

“This fall I think you’ll see much more reliance on the candidates carrying the water in their states,” rather than the national party apparatus, Steele said during a lively exchange with students at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

In victories such as the recent upset win by Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts, “we have trusted the candidates to shape the ground game and the campaigns and the messages,” Steele said. Brown was elected to Ted Kennedy’s old U.S. Senate seat in January, a victory that surprised the Democratic Party and deprived them of the 60-seat supermajority needed to pass legislation over Republican procedural hurdles.

Steele said letting candidates shape their own campaign and message took advantage of populist sentiment at work across the United States.

“People are taking control and they are shaping the agenda. … If you don’t believe me, ask the truck driver named Scott Brown. Ask the New Jersey governor named Chris Christie. There’s a certain dynamism that’s starting to explode across the country, and the political elite are not awake to it.”

Steele bristled at characterizations of GOP as “the party of no” for voting against most Democratic legislative initiatives over the past year.

Instead, he rapped Democrats for not being able to advance their agenda more boldly further despite large majorities in the House and Senate.

“I know why a lot of people want to focus on the GOP and the party of ‘no.’ But I didn’t hear a lot of yesses coming from the Democrats either. Even with 60 seats in the Senate and (a majority of) some 70 seats in the House, they couldn’t get it done. Now what does that tell you? I’ll let you ponder that. Write a paper on it or something.”

Steele gave the Harvard students, many of whom are likely to seek careers in policy or politics, some advice: be real.

“It helps to run on things that you believe. Don’t be a phony. Don’t pretend to be a conservative when you’re not, just to get through a primary. Don’t pretend to be a moderate if you’re not.”

“If you want to be able to lead in these moving times …. shut up and listen. Listen to what the people are saying,” he said.

For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Molly Riley (Steele after being elected chair of the Republican National Committee last year)

No comments so far

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see