Robert M. “Mike” Duncan, a 30-year political strategist and veteran of Republican politics, was elected the 60th Chairman of the Republican National Committee in January of 2007.
We would like to thank Chairman Duncan for taking time out of his schedule to answer our questions.
As always, our interview is run in its entirety, with no editing or additional commentary.
1. As Chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) what are your day-to-day responsibilities?
Anything and everything that’s necessary to elect Republicans across the country. On any given day, you could find me meeting with staff to discuss our strategy, our message, and our fundraising; speaking to a blogger like yourself or appearing on cable news; or any number of other things designed to put Republicans in a position to win.
2. What do you think the most important quality of a good RNC Chairman is?
I’d say there are three, actually.
First, you have to be committed to the party and have a deep understanding of where we’ve come from and where we’re going. Abraham Lincoln, who was born in my state, was the first Republican president, and the principles he advocated 150 years ago remain the foundation for what Republicans believe today. As RNC Chairman, you’ve got to be committed to promoting those principles every day.
Second, you have to be good at bringing people together. Though the Republican Party is a big tent, there are certain basic values Republicans share, and to succeed as RNC Chairman, you need to be able to keep everyone focused on advancing ideas connected to those values.
Third, you need to be a multitasker — especially with the country getting ready to elect the next president.
3. Give us a snapshot of where you think the Republican Party is in April of 2008.
I think we’re in good shape. We have a presumptive nominee, John McCain, around whom the party is united. Barack Obama and Senator Clinton continue to fight it out for the Democratic nomination, and the longer that fight goes on, the more both candidates get dragged to the left. John McCain is talking about issues that matter to the people, and offering common sense solutions that have wide appeal across America. That’s one reason why he’s earning the support of many Democrats and Independents — he has the kind of crossover appeal that Barack Obama and Senator Clinton lack, and polling backs that up. Added to all of that, the RNC’s fundraising remains strong. We have about $31 million in cash on hand, the DNC by contrast has only about $4.5 million, and our state parties are showing comparative strength in fundraising as well. All in all, Republicans should feel good.
4. Why do you think 2006 was such a tough year for Republicans? And why do you have hope that 2008 will be better?
I’ve said before that in the run-up to the 2006 election, we focused more on the fact that we were in the majority instead of reminding people why we were, and what our basic principles were. Our brand was damaged, and we didn’t do a good enough job of explaining to the American people why they should vote for us.
This year, that won’t be the case, however. First of all, our candidate, John McCain, is talking about the issues that matter most to Americans — keeping government growth in check, the economy, health care, national security — and he’s outlining solutions based on clearly center-right principles that reflect Americans’ priorities. And as I said, the Democrats have been dragged so far to the left that we’re seeing a starker contrast than ever before in my lifetime between what the Democratic candidates are proposing, and what the Republican, John McCain, is proposing. The Democrats’ primary process has been so extended that they’ve been forced more and more towards the liberal fringe, and independents and conservative and moderate Democrats are seeing a lot to like in John McCain, especially when contrasted with Senator Clinton and Barack Obama.
5. What is one “truth” that you wish Republicans better understood?
Basic Republican principles really do have timeless appeal. What Lincoln talked about 150 years ago still reflects what voters care about today. Big dreams and smaller government, strength and unity, liberty and victory.
6. How will the Republican Party attract younger voters moving forward?
First of all, we’ve been making a major push on reaching younger voters, especially online. We have an RNC Facebook group, and it has over 8,000 members. Our eCampaign Director, Cyrus Krohn, who came to us from Yahoo and who launched Slate at Microsoft, is always working on strategies to reach out more and more to our youth. We’re also conscious that a lot of younger voters get their news and information about the presidential race online — probably a lot of your readers are under 30. So, we work very hard at blog outreach, as I’m sure you know, firsthand.
But also, we’re blessed with having a nominee, John McCain, who is focused on issues that young voters care about, like entitlement reform, and keeping spending in check and taxes low. McCain’s understanding of environmental issues and foreign policy also appeals to them.
7. Why is John McCain the candidate most qualified to be President?
Quite simply, John McCain has devoted his life to serving America, and his career first in the Navy and since in Congress has given him the breadth of knowledge and experience necessary to handle the toughest challenges facing this country. He’s the only candidate offering real solutions and forward-thinking policies where the economy, national security, and a whole host of other major, national issues are concerned. He also has a demonstrated and well-known track record of leadership, which is another essential characteristic voters are looking for.
8. Why are Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama not qualified to be President?
Barack Obama has served just three years in the U.S. Senate, and by his own admission, much of that time he has spent running for president, instead of doing the work of a senator. He has not managed in that period to convene one policy hearing as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on European Affairs — that’s the subcommittee which incidentally oversees NATO, which is engaged in Afghanistan. He has a generally thin record, including on issues like the economy. And he is the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate, and doesn’t have much of a record as a bridge builder, contrary to what he often suggests.
Senator Clinton, for her part, has succeeded in convincing the American people that she is thoroughly untrustworthy and will say literally anything to get elected. Over the course of this campaign, we’ve seen many examples of her changing her tone and policy proposals on everything from funding for our troops to driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants, and that’s not the kind of president Americans are looking for.
The bottom line with both of them, though, is that they represent a tired, tax-and-spend, government-as-the-solution, liberal special-interest-driven agenda that frankly would be more fitting to the 1970s than 21st century America.
9. What is one issue that the Republicans and Democrats must work together to solve in the next year?
Cutting wasteful spending in Washington, D.C., would be one. Despite the fact that we’re not hearing much out of Senator Clinton or Barack Obama on this front, Americans of all political stripes can and do agree that the government has a responsibility to use taxpayer dollars wisely and on genuine national priorities instead of pet projects and schemes benefiting special interests. I’d add that John McCain has an excellent record where that is concerned — he has never requested an earmark and has been crystal clear that he will veto bills containing pork-barrel projects. The same cannot be said of Senator Clinton or Barack Obama — they’ve both requested millions worth of them, and that’s something that doesn’t sit well even with some Democrats who resent the waste that earmarks can entail, and also the lack of transparency surrounding them.
10. When you are not working you are doing what?
Most likely I’m reading, and probably about history — in addition to being RNC Chairman, I’m also the President of the Executive Board of the Kentucky Historical Society.
10 & 1/2. In the interest of bipartisanship, say something nice about someone from the DNC.
I’ll give my counterpart, Chairman Dean, some credit for attempting to make even the most deeply red states competitive for Democrats. I will also say that I don’t envy his task, though. I simply don’t think states like Idaho or Oklahoma are going to be competitive for Democrats any time in the near future. By contrast, we’re seeing polling that shows John McCain is competitive across the country, including in some traditionally blue states, and that’s something we’re going to keep working hard to progress, all the way to November.