dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

A new Republican future--a new Catholic political profile?

The GOP mandarins are voting now for a new chairman of the Republican Party, a move expected to signal how the party will apporach the post-Bush future--bigger tent, more of the same, or something else. This is also of course a debate within the wider conservative movement. Via Mark Silk, Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic indicates former Maryland lieutentant-governor and African-American Catholic,Michael Steele, may have a shot. Steele is pro-life but kind of big tent, and would--the pundits say--signal a new way forward. He might also represent a conundrum for Catholic conservatives (and some bishops), or a relief to same:

A Steele Surge?

30 Jan 2009 10:04 am

Voting begins in two hours, but the chatter in the halls of the Capital Hilton is that Michael Steele has benefited from a last-minute surge of support. Steele's team estimates that he has at least 40 first-round votes in the bag, second only to current RNC chairman Mike Duncan, who will probably finish the first round with between 55 and 65 votes.

During a private meeting with members last night, Steele vociferously defended his personal views -- he's pro-life -- and his intention to broaden the party's reach to include those who disagree. He was well-recieved.

We have discussed the future of Catholic politicis and pols before, here and here.

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

DavidWhat problem might Steele present to Catholic conservatives? I don't know much about Steele, but my impression is that politically he's much closer to Clarence Thomas than he is to Colin Powell, which is just fine with this Catholic conservative.

Mark: My recollection is that Steele is something of a big-tenter on the social issues, and Ambinder's comments reflect that. Which would be anathema to a large swatch of Catholic conservatives. If he widens the GOP tent, he could wind up looking like one of those "personally opposed but..." types, no?

David,No.I don't see the problem. By "reaching out" I don't think Steele is saying that he will move the party in a different direction. The reality is that there are already pro-abortion - personally opposed - politicians and other members of the GOP. Saying he will reach out doesn't mean, at least as I understand him, that he will change his views or the positions of the party on abortion, simply that he won't refuse to work with those he disagrees on abortion who are members of the party.

Funny: This is like watching a concalve and waiting for white smoke--looks like Duncan may have peaked! He's no Ratzinger!http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/30/gop-balloting-begins-incon...

Sean, you are likely better informed than I in this regard. (And only this one, mind you!)Steele has always seemed appealing, and of course as an African-American he could help change the "face" of the party at the top. But if it's biz-as-usual the rest of the way, what does that bode for the GOP? Seems like there had been a push for something new.

As an independent, I actually think that the GOP actually has been more successful at the big-tent approach for the last 3-4 decades. Its capacity to bring together groups as diverse as libertarians, social conservatives, and neoconservatives (most of whom were former Democrats) was nothing to sneer at. It was precisely this capacity that helped explain the GOP's political success since the early 1980s. Not surprsingly, success led to the decline. Not unlike liberalism that was amazingly successful between the 1930s and 1960s only to go into deep decline in the 1970s and thereafter. It's probably the GOP's turn now.I also find Steele's election very interesting. Attention will be on his race, but it is just as significant that the GOP's national committee elected a non-member. (This is why it took half a dozen ballots.) It's a first, I believe.This news also reminded me of Howard Dean's election to chairmanship 4 years ago. By all accounts, Dean was a successful chair, helping the party win congressional and of course the past presidential races. Yet he was relegated to the sidelines since last November. Rumor has it that he didn't get along with Obama's people. This, after Obama adopted someo of Dean's 50-states strategy, widely thought to be crazy when proposed. The former chairman's face was nowhere to be seen at the inauguration. It's to show what a thankless job it is to be national chairman of either party.

Historyman: It is a thankles job and I'm not sure who would want it. Whether the GOP has been more big tent, I'd dispute. The party has shrunk as its demographic has shrunk, which is in part why Steele was elected. He seems interesting, and apparently represents a break of some sort with the religious right monopoly, but that may or may not be the case. The proof will be in how and whther he can shape the direction of the party. In fact, who are the party leaders now? I just don't know. I think it's all still taking shape. Couple links here:http://voices.washingtonpost.com/thefix/2009/01/steele_elected_rnc_chair... 2006 NYT mag profile: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/26/magazine/326steele.html?ref=politics

Historyman may be independent but I'm not sure of his history, viz. how well the GOP brought groups together better than the Dems.I see Mr. Steele has already been cagey about the Palin PAC,If the party really wants to catch the eyes of the newer growing number of voters, it must not take bipartisanship to mean only cordiality but be able to say (to note Cokie Roberts on last Monday's NPR) compromise is not a dirty word (or, for that matter, neither are taxes (pace Grover Norquist.) Lastly, some Limbaugh repudiation wouldn't hurt either.

Bob and David: I hesitate to speak for Historyman, but I believe he is speaking about ideological groups, not ethnic groups. Which I think speaks to David's point - assuming for the moment, ad arguendo, the religious right has a monopoly on the GOP as you say, how can they win elections without them? I do not think there are any reasonable changes in their party platform which would make them a viable alternative for non-married or African American voters, for example. so aren't they just throwing a very numerous part of their constituency overboard with no real electoral benefit for it? Which brings me to another point - what's so wrong with being a permanent minority party on the federal level? I am quite conservative but do not vote for philosophical reasons, however I am much more disposed to the GOP now that they are in the minority. I guess here is where political parties and political philosophies clash - conservatives shouldn't really want to be in the majority but political parties need it to justify their existence. If a political party is espousing a conservative political philosophy, as that term is commonly understood in these United States, it shouldn't really ever be in the majority in the post-modern era. It was good while it lasted for them, but now with the election of the first truly post-modern President and a clear electoral majority for that philosophy, any changes the GOP would purportedly make to win Federal elections would just render the party indistinguishable from the current Democratic party. I mean what would a post-modern Republican party look like? Who would be its "base"? Bringing me to Bob's points on taxes. Taxes are the glue holding together enormous swaths of the coalitions comprising the GOP, including the Federalists, the Religious Right, married peak-income earners, high payroll-income earners, etc. - to abandon that is to destroy the party as it is currently constituted into a fragmented opposition against the ruling government. Perhaps that's a good thing, but in our system it would make the opposition even more irrelevant that it already is.

Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Republican. Catholic.Frequent use of holy water does not necessarily impart wisdom or goodness.

MAT: Interesting comment, worth another thread. The idea that a political party should be in permanent minority status seems problematic, for the society and the party. One can easily adopt an isolationist mindset, I'd say, and the regnant party would become increasingly corrupt. I don't think conservatism should autmatocially connote minority status. Why? I just think it'll take a long time (barring Obama/Dem failures, scandals etc, all possible) for the GOP to recover, which can only happen by governing (at the state level most likely) as true conservatives. To my mind, Bush didn't.

I thought Thomas Friedman's op-ed in the NYT today that there is no magic bullet to solve our deeply entwined fiscal mess was right on point.If all the GOP has to offer is more tax cuts, then it's not change and it's simplistic purblind to tthe awful and complex realities we face.

Yes, by "big-tent" I meant ideological, not ethnic. Besides, I was talking about the last 3-4 decades, not the last 10-15 years. The last 10-15 years certainly showed a much more competitive Democratic Party in electoral politics (thanks in part to the move towards the middle headspeared by moderate Dems like Clinton, Gore, Lieberman, Bayh, etc.) as well as a more internally divisive GOP (e.g., libertarians felt dominated by social conservatives). Why? One reason is by demise of Communism, which had been a unifying card for different groups in the GOP. It is no accident that the GOP has been less unified since the end of the Cold War.I should qualify that the GOP was successful in forcing the Dems to move towards the middle in certain issues (e.g., welfare reform), but much less so in other areas such as the federal government. If anything, the federal bureaucracy expanded under Reagan and especially George W. Bush: fine with neoconservatives but made libertarians very unhappy.

An array of opinions from both sides on Steele's election to the chairmanship.http://www.politico.com/arena/archive/blogsgop.html

Share

About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.