When Ann Wagner, the former United States ambassador to Luxembourg, returned from abroad in 2009, she felt that she has not entirely left Europe behind.
“I felt, after I left, that perhaps socialism had begun to follow me across the pond,” she told The Daily Caller in a phone interview.
In an attempt to help end what she views as the government’s overreach during President Barack Obama’s tenure, Wagner is running for chair of the Republican National Committee.
Wagner’s desire to chair the committee is not just about helping to elect a Republican president; it is also about removing Michael Steele from the position. Wagner has been one of the most vocal among the candidates in calling for Steele to be ousted, urging her fellow candidates and her supporters among the committee not to support him under any circumstances.
“I would ask any of the candidates out there to not to move any of their support to Michael Steele, regardless of the outcome of any one individual,” she told CNN.
Moreover, CNN reports, “she will ‘absolutely not’ endorse Steele or tell her supporters to do so” if her own bid for the chairmanship is not successful.
Speaking to TheDC, Wagner declined to directly address the problems during Steele’s tenure as chairman, saying only that there were a number of things that needed to be changed; in particular, a renewed focus on fundraising, and increased “transparency” and “accountability.”
“You can have the greatest political plans and state victory plans in the world,” Wagner said, “but if you don’t have the funding, they won’t happen. And during a presidential year there are certain things that only the RNC can do and that the RNC does well … we’ve got to have the funding and the leadership to get it done.”
“I think it’s important that we make a pledge for a change and for new leadership,” she added. “I think that is what’s necessary going forward, and I think we should do whatever it is to support that — make a commitment that no matter what happens, that we are about changing leadership at the Republican National Committee.”
Though no frontrunner has yet emerged, Wagner is considered to be a serious contender in the race. The Washington Post ranks her second, tied with Saul Anuzis, with the explanation that “what really recommends her to the committee and its members is her fundraising capacity.”
In 1990 and 1991, Wagner ran redistricting in Missouri, and then served as the executive director for the Bush/Quayle campaign of 1992.
“In 1996,” she says, “I decided to run to become the Lafayette township committee woman, and I served in that position for nine years. It’s probably the most grassroots neighborhood, neighbor-to-neighbor kind of politics one can do. It’s very important to keep in touch with the real people out there and to learn at the most basic level how to activate and turn out the grassroots.”
She became the first female chair of the Missouri Republican Party, and served for three terms, during which time she oversaw Republican victories in the state at every level. She went on to co-chair the RNC for two terms, before serving as ambassador to Luxembourg.
In the last election cycle, Wagner chaired Roy Blunt’s successful campaign for Senate. It was that experience, she said, which inspired her to run for RNC chairman.
“I realized that there were some difficulties at the Republican National Committee — that we weren’t perhaps going to be able to get the resources or the support that I felt I had seen the committee provide in the past to the states,” she said. “And we compensated for that — I realized that early on after meeting with the leadership there. But it concerned me because the way we won, and the kind of support that we got is not efficient and won’t bode well in a presidential cycle when democratic turn out will, I think, be much stronger than it was in 2010.”
In her pitch to committee members, Wagner draws on her experiences to paint herself as someone who would provide “a new direction for the RNC.” She touts her history of “winning elections” for Republicans, as well as her “background in fundraising,” and her extensive network built up over the years.
Speaking of the financial troubles of the committee and the necessity of fixing that, she points to her “good management and CEO skills.”
“I have run everything from a United States embassy to a state party, to the co-chair’s office, to a family of five,” she says, “and I have a business degree and a business background.”
Moreover, she adds, “I obviously have the political savvy.”
Lastly, when speaking to committee members, Wagner emphasizes the importance of communication, both to the public, and within the party.
“To the extent that we have to put a public face, or a face to the public, through speeches or to the press, I could certainly do that,” she said. “I know I could go toe to toe with Chairman Kaine and others out there in the community in terms of talking about our political plans, talking about our great candidates, talking about our plans for victory.”
As she was serving as ambassador in 2008 during the last presidential election, during which time she was not permitted to be politically active, Wagner says she could be “a real honest broker, and a true good advocate on behalf of all of our presidential nominees,” as she was not in any one of their camps in 2008.
Wagner speaks highly of the Tea Party, adding that she has received substantial support from Tea Party groups ever since participating in FreedomWorks forum for RNC chair candidates.
“I think it’s important for us to recognize the true, authentic, grassroots nature of this movement,” she says, “and to respect it, and to not co-opt it. They don’t want to be considered Republicans, but they are conservatives.”
“I think they played a major role in this last election, and I think we have to continue to listen to what they have to say and to work together on initiatives,” she continued. “They will absolutely have a seat at the table.”
Wagner has three children, two sons and a daughter, who she says she has always tried to involve in her work.
“My children have grown up and had kind of a front-row seat to a living civics lesson,” she told TheDC. “This is what they think all mom’s do: that they’re political activists, that they work in the arenas of politics and public service.”
Wagner feels it is important that her kids understand the value and importance of her work.
“They need to know, because their mom may be missing important things in their school life or their social life, what we’re fighting for and why it’s important,” she explained. “They know that giving back, and being a servant leader is important for our community and for our country.”
If Wagner has a weakness, she says, this is it. “I’m a workaholic,” she explained.
“I probably at times expect too much out of others,” she told TheDC. “I’m a very high energy person who works very hard, don’t need much sleep, very passionate about the things that I do, and I expect others that work with and for me to share the same kind of work ethic and commitment.”
“I don’t have a whole lot of downtime,” she concluded, laughing.
This is something she turns into a positive quality in her pitch to committee members.
“The people who work for you and with you only rise to the level of their leadership,” she says. “As the daughter of a small business owner, I have a very strong work ethic; I’m extremely frugal; I hold people accountable.”
If some of this sounds familiar, it’s because much of what Wagner told TheDC can be found quoted, often verbatim in various different interviews she has done. Wagner, it seems has trouble veering off script. Asked for some things about her background that readers might find interesting, as opposed to RNC members, she spoke about her kids and about being a working mom.
“I don’t know if that’s what you’re looking for,” she concluded. “I don’t know if it’s humanizing or whatever.”
Wagner describes her time in Luxembourg as “amazing.”
“What I probably enjoyed the most was the economic development and trade work that I got to do in the huge area of banking and financial services,” she said. “I was able to affect terrorist financing and shut that down, and things of that nature. You know, there were days when you thought, ‘Wow, you were really able to affect things.’” She also worked to increase the presence of American companies in Luxembourg.
What she missed most, she says, was, “at the most basic level, the familiarity. You know, everyday when you’re serving abroad is new and different — different languages, different cultures, different people, and I mean it’s fascinating and interesting, but sometimes it’s nice to walk into a store or drive down the road and you know what comes next, or where to find something.”
It also, she says, made her and her family appreciate the United States more, particularly its system of government. She told TheDC, and she has been often quoted as saying, that
This added to Wagner’s desire to unseat Obama in 2012.
“I’m in this to win the presidency in 2012, and I’m looking no further than that,” she told TheDC. “No further than 2012. We need to finish the job that I believe we began in 2010, and that is my goal and my plan.
Wagner’s political ambitions do not stop there.
“I’m 48 years old,” she said. “Public service, serving my community and my country, are very much a part of who I am, and I will always, always consider service of some nature to my community, and to my state and to my country. So, who knows what the future will bring.”
Wagner’s favorite ice cream flavor is “French vanilla,” she says, “but … it’s got to have hot fudge dripped all over on top.”
Wagner will participate in a debate on Jan. 3 at the National Press Club. The debate is co-hosted by The Daily Caller and Americans for Tax Reform. More information can be found and questions for the candidates can be submitted at www.rncdebate.org.