The Washington Times reported today that President Bush’s choice to be general chairman of the Republican National Committee, U.S. Senator Mel Martinez of Florida, has met with heavy resistance among RNC members, including the three members from Texas. Martinez’s problem is twofold: first, he is strictly a symbolic choice–the White House wanted an Hispanic–and, second, Martinez supports John McCain’s immigration bill that includes a path to citizenship, a policy that is anathema to the GOP base. The state Republican Party’s platform contains this line: “Illegal Immigration: No Amnesty. No How. No Way.”
According to the Times, the Central Committee of the Republican Party of Texas has passed a resolution “strongly urging” chairman Tina Benkiser and the two elected members of the RNC from Texas, Bill Crocker, of Austin, and Denise McNamara, of Dallas to oppose Martinez’s election. The Times’ story quoted both Benkiser (“I will be voting against Senator Martinez if he is nominated for any chairmanship of the RNC”) and Crocker (“Absolutely, I will vote against Martinez”). McNamara was not quoted. I could not find any mention of the resolution on the RPT’s Web site.
The vote, which is scheduled for Wednesday, could be preceded by considerable parliamentary maneuvering. The post of general chairman does not appear in the RNC rules. Moreover, the party leader is required to be a member of the RNC, and Martinez is not a member. In fact, Martinez is not expected to have any duties if he wins. Regardless of how Martinez’s election turns out, the real head of the RNC, with the title of national chairman, will be the organization’s treasurer Mike Duncan of Kentucky.
While this is the kind of fight that goes virtually unnoticed outside the Beltway, it will be closely watched in Washington. The Times has already noted that Republican fundraisers expect to encounter problems in raising money for the 2008 election cycle, since the party has lost control of both houses of Congress. Martinez’s election will not be popular with the party’s conservative base, and that too could hurt fundraising. And a defeat for Martinez would certainly be viewed as yet another sign of the president’s declining influence. Which raises the question: Why risk a face-losing battle over a purely symbolic appointment? Karl, are you there?