Feature:Opinion

I revived the RNC

Michael Steele Contributor

In a life spent advancing our conservative principles, I have had the privilege to serve as a county chairman, a state chairman, a candidate and an elected official. But my most valuable lessons have come from my time door knocking, stuffing envelopes and talking to voters. Engaging voters in their own homes and communities has taught me a key lesson—our Republican grass roots are the critical ingredient to achieving victory. The Republican National Committee’s renewed grass-roots focus was essential to our party’s historic gains in 2010, and will be even more critical as we prepare to win in 2012. To successfully implement a grass-roots strategy in 2012, we must continue to strengthen our state party organizations and to create and sustain a collaborative effort around a unifying message. I am running for reelection as Chairman of the RNC to do just that, and to finish the work we began two years ago.

Throughout the 2009-2010 cycle, the Republican National Committee has been singularly focused on winning. By every key measure—fundraising, turnout, and election results—our party was hugely successful. And we were successful because we listened to our grass roots, harnessed their energy and, most of all, affirmed their common-sense conservative ideals. We espoused governing principles that protect freedom and prosperity through free markets and limited government—the polar opposite of our Democrat opponents. In the process, we revived an RNC organization that had failed to compete effectively with the Democrats in 2006 and 2008. Falling back into that dispirited and ineffective state is not an option.

Inexplicably, over much of the last decade, our party simply gave up competing for votes in vast regions of the country, and among huge blocks of voters. That failed strategy was worse than an insult to those disenfranchised voters—it was a blunder. The predictable result was political disaster. Even worse, the Republican Party’s political malpractice afflicted the American people with Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid, and their job-killing agenda and crippling debt.

We began reversing that trend in 2009 with victories in Virginia and New Jersey that continued into 2010 with more victories in Massachusetts and Hawaii. But that was just the beginning. Through innovation (and yes, a little risk-taking) we demonstrated the broad, long-term viability of the emerging Republican governing majority by picking up 63 House seats, the biggest midterm gain since 1938, six U.S. Senate seats, 12 governorships and the greatest share of state legislative seats since 1928. Our renaissance was underway.

Working closely with our state parties, the RNC has focused on four tasks, each essential to achieving our goal of building an enduring Republican majority.

  • Affirm the Republican Party’s commitment to its core conservative principles. The RNC has welcomed the energy and limited-government principles of grass-roots conservatives, and worked hard to ensure that their views found expression within the Republican Party, not in a schismatic movement. As a result, over 45 million voters turned out to cast ballots for Republican candidates in 2010—by a huge margin, the highest midterm turnout for any party in any midterm election in U.S. history. Approximately 9.5 million more Republican voters went to the polls in 2010 than in the last midterm, a stunning 26% increase and the biggest jump in voter turnout in U.S. history.

  • Raise record amounts of funds and expand the RNC’s donor base by over one million new donors. In the 2010 cycle, the RNC raised over $192 million. That total exceeded, by far, the amounts raised on behalf of Republican candidates by any other entity, including GOP committees and independent groups not bound by the limits that apply to the RNC. In doing so, the RNC brought on over one million new donors and smashed the record for most money collected by any committee whose party does not control either Congress or the White House—the RNC’s receipts were a remarkable 47% greater than the DNC’s in the 2006 cycle.

  • Rebuild the Republican Party’s ground game. Over the past two years, the RNC utilized all technological tools available to communicate with current and prospective supporters. The RNC website was completely revamped, increasing page views 159%. The RNC email list also was overhauled, and the content of outgoing emails enhanced. RNC email now has a 40% open rate—up from about 3% in 2008. Even more importantly, the RNC has a renewed focus on getting out to work among voters across the country. The RNC established 360 Victory offices nationwide in 2010, compared to just 154 in 2008 and 140 in 2006. Largely through those offices, the RNC made more than 45 million voter contacts, far more than even in the 2008 presidential election year.
  • Insist that the Republican Party compete vigorously in every city, state, and region across our country, and among every demographic group. The Republican Party is now committed to fighting for votes everywhere. The RNC has pushed hard to field Republican candidates in every Congressional District in the country—this year a record 430 Republican nominees ran for the House. Those candidates all shared a commitment to limiting government and promoting strong economic growth, but they came from every conceivable background, including a record number of minority candidates.

Over the next two years, the RNC must continue to build a majority party by reaching out to allies and other conservative-minded and politically active constituencies wherever they may be. Taking none for granted and writing none off, we must become an inclusive and diverse party that truly reflects the makeup of our nation, both demographically and politically.

Moreover, we must continue to build our record grass-roots fundraising base, while reviving our major donor programs. Recognizing that many of the RNC’s past major donors are no longer politically active, or followed past party leaders to 527s which are not bound by the donation limits and disclosure requirements which apply to the RNC, we began an aggressive effort to cultivate new major donors to sustain us not just today, but in coming decades.

My tenure as chairman has been characterized by outspokenness and a willingness to engage in the political debate as a force for conservative principles. As a result, Washington often fretted, but the grass roots understood. And, on Election Day, voters insisted that their own voices be heard. Make no mistake: 2010 was a comprehensive, bottom-up victory by a party written off one year ago as an “endangered species.”

Moving forward will require an RNC chairman who understands the roots of that victory. To be sure, our push towards 2012 will be met by an intense and powerful reelection bid by the president. In response, we must fight—and win—every vote at the grass roots.

I am running for RNC chairman to continue our work to establish the Republican Party as America’s majority party. I ask to be judged on the only criteria that matter in this job—fundraising, turnout, and election results. Based on those metrics, the RNC has been more successful in the past two years than ever in its history. Working together, we will make sure that the next two years are even better.

Michael Steele is the chairman of the Republican National Committee.