Reince Priebus: Thoughts on the Election of the New RNC Chair


Some observations on the election of Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus to be RNC Chairman Friday:

No big surprises. Priebus went into the balloting as the favorite, consistently gained votes in each round, and then won on the seventh and final ballot. The only real surprise is that it took him as long as it did to put the race away. But because none of his competitors started off with an embarrassingly low number of votes, there was little incentive for them to drop out in the early rounds, even if, as in the case of incumbent chairman Michael Steele, the odds of winning were extremely low. Steele appeared to need a demonstration of his low odds in the balloting, dropping out only after the fourth round and losing support along the way.

A graphic compiled Charles Franklin of Polls and Votes showed Priebus picking up steady support and then surging once Steele and political professional Ann Wagner dropped out of the race.

Guam didn't matter. After all the hubbub about Steele's visit to Guam and support for and from the Pacific Rim, it wasn't enough to get him anywhere he needed to be. America's day may begin on Guam, but the sun set on Steele in a generic-looking ballroom in his home state of Maryland.

Barbour vs. Boehner. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) may lead the House, but Priebus was boosted by early backing from Henry Barbour, the nephew of the Mississippi governor and Republican Governors Association head. Boehner threw his weight behind Maria Cino, making calls on her behalf and even holding a fundraiser for her in Washington this week. She never got above 40 votes.

Still no elected woman. Mary Louise Smith is the only woman to have served as RNC Chair; she was appointed to the position by President Gerald Ford and served from 1974-1977. Her appointment was very much a reflection of the times, in that her tenure predated the emergence of the Christian right and the conservative turn in the Republican Party, making it possible for a woman who supported abortion rights and the Equal Rights Amendment to serve in the party leadership role. No woman has ever been elected to the RNC chairmanship by committee members, and this year was no exception. Cino, for her part, was seen as a liberal among the candidates for RNC chair despite being firmly against abortion rights and supporting the party's opposition to gay marriage. Steele's support for Cino during the balloting only strengthened that impression.

Tea party comes in from the cold. Priebus helped bridge the chasm between tea party supporters and more longstanding Republican figures in Wisconsin, and has promised to do it again as RNC chair. Not all tea party groups are happy with his win -- the Tea Party Nation tweeted out "Priebus elected chair of RNC. Welcome to Michael Steele 2.0." after the final votes were tallied -- but Priebus has promised to soothe such divides.

SEE ALSO: "How to Pronounce Reince Priebus"

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Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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