Republicans Gather for National Meeting

By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 29, 2009

Who am I? Why am I? Where am I going?

So very, very much for the Republican to ponder in this Winter of the Democrats' Contentment. So many questions. Even the reliable color scheme has gone blurry. Isn't that big-shot GOP strategist Alex Castellanos swirling Republican red with Democrat blue, and coming up with a Washington consulting shop called -- heavens! -- "Purple?" Why, yes.

"Sit tight," the new firm's Web site says. "We are still mixing the colors."

What's next? Republican tie-dye?

So many questions.

"We're in this rebuilding time," Monica Notzon, a Washington-based Republican fundraiser, helpfully explained this month. "Trying to figure out who we are."

It is into this new world order, this Washington version of an existential whorl, that a steadfastly loyal group of Republicans descend this week, skidding into an iced-over landscape and holing up at the Capital Hilton beginning yesterday for a four-day winter meeting of the Republican National Committee. (Not to be missed on the restorative agenda: a "Reboot the RNC" open house.) They've themed the whole get-together "Republican for a Reason," and left it at that.

"Republican for a reason?" says Stephen Scheffler, a committeeman from Iowa, pausing before a banner carrying the slogan. "I don't know what that means."

This is not an occasion for high-fives. The committee is getting together to choose a new chairman, settling an unusually intense competition that includes former Maryland lieutenant governor and current omnipresent talking head Michael Steele. It will also consider whether to issue a call to put the kibosh on President Obama's stimulus plan and any future industry bailouts. A few young women in blue T-shirts hand out stickers promoting a candidate for chairman, Saul Anuzis, of Michigan. None of the other candidates seem to bother.

The members linger over soup in the hotel restaurant and chat quietly in the hallway. Ron Kaufman -- a committeeman who was tight with Daddy Bush -- tries to sell a couple of fellow members on the virtues of Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead." Eventually the group files behind closed doors to commiserate in secret. Beginning today it will open things up for publicly consumable speechifying.

These committeemen and committeewomen -- including a bunch of new, mostly conservative members -- land in a capital that used to be theirs. Oh, things were sweeeet when their krewe got together back in 2005, when they had both houses of Congress and the White House, and their newly minted chairman, Ken Mehlman, was making dynasty rumblings, declaring a crusade for "a durable majority." This time, Washington is a place where Democrats seem to have the mojo and where just a few days ago the yuksters at the bars up in Adams Morgan were smashing elephant piƱatas and spearing elephant dartboards.

All the Obama love in the air isn't helping their moods, either. Jim Bopp, a committeeman from the Great State of Indiana, grumbled before coming into town that "there's kind of a 'Kumbaya' feeling in the country."

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