GOP Chairman Reelected Amid Impeachment
By Thomas B. Edsall
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 23, 1999; Page A14
Republicans yesterday reelected Jim Nicholson
to a second term as party chairman amid growing anxiety among
state leaders that the impeachment of President Clinton is threatening
to damage the GOP's prospects in 2000.
Nicholson, a Republican National Committee member
from Colorado, easily fended off a challenge from Florida state
party Chairman Tom Slade, 127 to 36, despite complaints about
GOP setbacks in the 1998 elections. Slade and Nicholson said after
the vote that the proceedings against Clinton are hurting their
"In standing up for American values, Republicans
have sustained political damage, at least in the short term,"
Nicholson said in a speech to the RNC. But Nicholson argued that
"character is doing what's right even when everybody is looking
at the polls. We cannot be a political party that decides what
it believes based on the polls."
Nicholson tried to bring the focus beyond impeachment
to the 2000 presidential campaign and the most likely Democratic
nominee -- Vice President Gore, whom he gave special attention
in his speech, calling him the "chief defender and heir-apparent
as leader of the tax-and-spend wing of the Democratic Party."
Slade told reporters: "If we get on out of here
pretty quick, then I don't think it's going to impact 2000. .
. . [It's] a negative now. I think . . . the American people are
waiting for this issue to get over with."
On the same subject, Thomas D. Rath, a committeeman
from New Hampshire, said: "Right now, it's an enormous distraction.
. . . There are some things Republicans in Congress want to talk
about that we just can't get to because we are so caught up in
this." Rath said he agrees with those who say "we know how this
is going to come out, why don't we just get to that vote and move
Yet, despite these concerns, the majority of
RNC members appeared to support the continuation of the Senate
trial. New Jersey committeeman David Norcross said: "I would like
them to finish as soon as they can, but I don't want them to stop
and put it under the rug. . . . They have a moral responsibility
to make the American people focus on this as a real problem."
As RNC members publicly and privately debated
impeachment, another issue being discussed here was Nicholson's
request that South Carolina committeeman Buddy Witherspoon resign
from the Council of Conservative Citizens. The council has promoted
controversial views warning that integration, immigration and
intermarriage threaten the viability of the "white" race.
Yesterday, Witherspoon reiterated his intention
to put off the issue. "I'll make a decision at the proper time,"
Most committee members were more critical of
the council, and southerners were clearly uncomfortable with the
"That organization seems to have a controversial,
negative reputation around the country," said Henry McMaster,
South Carolina party chairman. "It's not an organization that
Republicans in South Carolina affiliate with."
Mike Retzer, Mississippi GOP chairman, said,
"It's a personal decision," but added, "I personally am not interested
in associating myself with them; I would recommend the same course
to politicians in my state."
Slade was one of the few members to defend Witherspoon's
right to be a member of any organization he chooses. "This happens
to be America, and the privilege of membership to me is a little
like free speech."
Rath of New Hampshire contended the controversy
over the council and disclosures that Senate Majority Leader Trent
Lott (R-Miss.) and House Judiciary Committee member Robert L.
Barr Jr. (R-Ga.) had addressed national meetings of the council
have hurt the GOP's ability to reach out to moderate and independent
voters. The publicity has "reinforced the stereotype" of the Republican
Party as dominated by deeply conservative southern interests,
Another northeasterner, Massachusetts committeeman
Ron Kaufman, said Witherspoon's membership in the council creates
a "perceptual problem, and it's bigger than any one of us. I think
Jim [Nicholson] did the right thing, just like [former RNC chair]
Lee Atwater repudiated David Duke."
The RNC rejected a proposal that the party not
accept contributions from gambling interests and accepted a recommendation,
made by its site selection committee last year, to hold its 2000
presidential convention in Philadelphia.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company