July 24, 2008

huffington post hit today

The Huffington Post
July 24, 2008
Sam Stein
stein@huffingtonpost.com HuffPost Reporting From DC

GOP Insider Eviscerates Bush And Party: Just "Phenomenal Arrogance"

There is wide-spread acknowledgment, even within the party itself, that the Republican brand is currently poisonous. Faced with massive losses in November, GOP leadership has green-lighted a save-yourself mentality, allowing its endangered members to go against the party line if it means helping their electoral chances.

But if the situation seems bad on the electoral level, insiders warn that it's even worse when you get down to infrastructure and machinery. Facing an avalanche of losses, the GOP is stuck with an antiquated system of fundraising, a tired leadership, and a president many Americans loathe.

"There is a phenomenal arrogance like a fog that has clouded people's thinking and ability to see what is real," said Nicole Sexton, a longtime Republican fundraiser and former Director of Finance for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "We have to go down in history as some of the worst messengers. And President Bush has been horrible. Everything he does deems calculated and insincere. The same was true with Bill Clinton but he at least had the ability to seem sincere. With Bush, people are throwing stones and tomatoes at him [and he hasn't changed]."

Sexton, the author of the new book, "Party Favors" (a fictionalized look at the life of a GOP fundraiser), offered a fairly dire assessment of the party in which she used to be a major figure. A native of New Orleans, much of her scorn was saved for Bush, who she derided for his ignorance of the scope Hurricane Katrina's devastation.

"He should have been in a row boat in the middle of the 9th ward, helping families," she said before adding, when prompted, "like Sean Penn... Instead, there were all these resources put to his press conference."

As the chief financial officer for the NRSC, Sexton did not put the blame for the GOP's current problems strictly at Bush's doorstep. She talked openly (later admitting that her former colleagues weren't too pleased with her frankness) about how political figures she had once admired had become consumed by the prospect of reelection.

"We need some new blood in the party," she said. "But the problem is that the younger candidates, like John Sununu, are real in danger of losing their seats."

The GOP's outreach is also aging. "We are a direct marketing and a direct mail party and that's a dinosaur in the fundraising world," she said. "Just look at our presidential candidates [this cycle]. Huckabee was the only one that came close to have an Internet presence like Obama. All his money came from the web and he was able to stay in the race till the final hour. Giuliani, I don't know if he was seeing straight... For McCain to literally have imploded twice and still be the candidate is a phenomenal statement about the party."

If anyone should know about the intersection of money and politics it is Sexton. Starting as an intern for the White House Office of National Service she quickly rose to prominence within the sometimes-sordid world of political fundraising. At her post at the NRSC from 2002 through 2005, she played an instrumental role in helping the GOP regain control of the Senate, only to grow disillusioned. "I realized I really didn't know these people," she said. "I was a cog in the machine and hadn't connected with any of the candidates I was helping elect."

She also grew wary of the role that fundraising played. Noting that politicians were spending disproportionate amounts of time raising cash, she called for the system to be scrapped in favor of caps on the amount candidates could raise as a whole (not to be confused with a cap on the size of the individual donations) and restrictions on the time period during which they could raise cash.

Now employed by the ONE Campaign, Sexton still is connected to, and eagerly following, the GOP. Before ending the interview she predicted that her party would lose five seats in the Senate this cycle -- an optimistic estimate in a down year. She also projected that McCain would eventually best Obama though her admiration for the latter's political prowess were clearly evident.

"Usually the youth will go to politically rallies and concerts and never show up and vote and they certainly never contributed" she said of the Illinois Democrat's appeal to younger voters. "These people now are leaving college and giving to Obama. It is phenomenal. If you are giving up your beer money for three nights it means you are invested in the guy."


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