Does it matter who ends up running the Republican Party?

Since the election, the quest to find a new leader for the divided Republican Party of Iowa has been a frequent topic for discussion on conservative blogs. No clear front-runner has emerged among the nine people known to be seeking the job. Some observers believe Iowa GOP treasurer Gopal Krishna has the most supporters on the 17-member State Central Committee that will select a new chair, although committee member David Chung handicaps the race differently.

All the candidates have been invited to appear at a public forum this Saturday, January 3, at the Iowa GOP headquarters. Knowing little about most of the people vying for this job, I’ve been intrigued by the comment threads at conservative blogs like “Krusty Konservative.” Attacks against this or that candidate have been nastier than anything I remember reading on Democratic blogs when Howard Dean was running for Democratic National Committee chairman in 2005.

The Republican National Committee also needs a new leader, with no front-runner for that job. A mini-scandal has erupted over one candidate’s decision to give RNC members a CD including a song called “Barack the Magic Negro.”

I’ve been wondering how much these leadership contests matter.

Obviously some people will be better organizers or better fundraisers or better communicators than others, and for all I know some of the declared candidates are truly inept. But let’s assume the Republicans find leaders with all the qualities on a party hack’s wish list. Will they be able to turn things around for the GOP by raising more money and improving their campaign mechanics?

Commenting on plans to create a think tank within the RNC called the “Center for Republican Renewal,” Matthew Yglesias recently observed,

Ambitious people don’t like the idea that their fate is out of their hands. But an opposition political party’s fate is largely out of its hands. The Democratic Party’s recovery from its low ebb in the winter of 2004-2005 had very little to do with Democratic policy innovation and a great deal to do with the fact that the objective situation facing the country got worse. The time for the GOP to improve, policy-wise, was back then. Had the Bush administration been animated by better ideas, Bush might not have led to declining incomes, rising inequality, and catastrophic military adventures. But since he did, the GOP lost. And now the reality is that it’s the Democrats’ turn to govern. If things work out poorly, the GOP will get back in whether or not they have an ideological renewal, and if things work out well the Republicans will stay locked out.

I suspect Yglesias is right. Republican conservatives want to “embrace their core principles and effectively communicate a compelling message of bold-color conservatism”. Moderates want to do away with “litmus tests” and “recapture the broad base.”

But the facts of life are these: in Iowa and at the federal level, voters have given Democrats control of the legislative and executive branches. Whether the Republicans bounce back in 2010 or 2012 will depend more on whether Democrats blow it than whether the RNC or the Iowa State Central Committee chooses the right leader.

What do you think?

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