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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Playing a New Role Competently

Why are Republicans willing to accept Michael Steele’s many missteps as National Chairman of their party? Well, part of the story is that they aren’t real eager to confirm their image as the party of Angry Old White People by dumping an African-American chairman who’s willing to toe their increasingly reactionary line, but there’s more to it than that. As John Heilemann explains for New York magazine, the specific role of the two parties is already being narrowed rapidly by the new campaign finance rules:

In the wake of McCain-Feingold and more recently the landmark Citizens United Supreme Court decision on campaign spending, both national parties were already in the process of seeing their roles weakened dramatically and taken over by private interests. That trend is secular and has nothing to do with Steele. But his gaffes, mismanagement, and all-purpose absurdity may very well exacerbate the trend within the GOP—in the process presenting a short-term opportunity for Democrats to do better in 2010 than the political class expects.

To make a long story short, Citizens United is rapidly shifting many partisan functions to private groups. But RNC incompetence is giving the DNC a bigger-than-expected advantage in the functions that are left:

[Republican meta-operative Ben] Ginsberg points to three distinct areas where Steele and his people appear to be in danger of falling short: developing a ground game (“they’ve cut the budget like maniacs”); pumping money into the congressional campaign committees to put more seats in play (“instead, we’re going to wind up leaving more than we need to on the table”); and the crucial work on this year’s post-Census redistricting (“the Democrats are in a really good place, and the RNC is letting everyone down—they’re nowhere”).

Tim Kaine’s not getting much attention during the endless saga of Steele’s mistakes. But that’s fine with Democrats. the DNC doesn’t pretend to be the big dog in Democratic finance, strategy or message, and it’s playing its critical support role competently, and compared to the opposition, well enough to win.

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