The national Republican counterattack will not begin in Washington. Like most successful movements in American politics, this one will begin in the states.
When the Republican National Committee meets outside Washington later this month, it will do so as an organization that has been retooled and reformed to aid and support this national counterattack, not hinder it.
In a few short weeks, Chairman Michael Steele has transformed the RNC and its staff from a group that had been trained to serve as an extension of a Republican White House to one that can serve as a partner to candidates, state party organizations and the National Republican Senatorial and Congressional committees.
This kind of transformation is rarely easy. People get accustomed to a particular way of operating, but clearly change was necessary for the party to adopt the right posture for an organization now seeking to regain, rather than merely preserve, power.
The most obvious contrast between old and new comes in how the RNC is working with state parties. A few weeks ago, I sat down with Chairman Steele and my colleagues from a dozen states for a roundtable meeting in which each state party showcased its progress, programs and challenges. It was an extraordinary session that differed sharply from past RNC events, which were, without exception, top-down affairs. Instead of merely relaying orders, this session, like others Steele has held in recent weeks, was intended to draw out new ideas and innovations and give states an opportunity to share best practices.
This is a major shift in the RNC’s orientation and culture. Past attempts to organize state party chairmen to exchange ideas and best practices were opposed by the “experts” in Washington. Now, such efforts are not merely tolerated but promoted as a necessary part of building a party that can successfully combat — and defeat — Barack Obama’s Democratic Party.
And it’s working.
The amount of communication taking place among America’s state Republican chairmen has exploded in recent weeks, producing tangible results. New approaches to coalition building in Florida and Ohio are being replicated and expanded in California. Meanwhile, California’s new technology initiative is being replicated in other states.
It’s been said that the Republicans’ style of running political parties is the same as the Democrats’ style of running government: top-down, centralized, bureaucratic and resistant to change. No longer. The RNC is moving ahead by promoting innovation in the states, sharing those ideas and developments, and utilizing the political equivalent of market forces to bring new ideas to Washington.
The latest national polling shows Republicans have been given an opportunity to advance. Americans who support Obama are doing so not because of any agreement over his left-leaning policies but, rather, because of his personality and style. Meanwhile, twice as many Americans are now concerned the government will do too much, rather than too little, in response to the current economic crisis.
To take advantage of the opportunity presented by the Democrats’ disconnect with Americans over policy, Republicans must concurrently deliver a credible alternative economic vision while building the campaign organization necessary to mobilize and persuade large numbers of voters. Some of the best ways to accomplish that are being developed right now, in the states. And this RNC will be an ally, not an adversary, in sharing those ideas as a new blueprint for national victory in 2010 is developed.
Ron Nehring is chairman of the Republican National Committee’s State Chairmen’s Committee and chairman of the California Republican Party.