As an Iowan who has witnessed Gentry Collins’ rise in national politics, and as a former Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa who has worked closely with the talented operative only to see him ultimately call for my firing, I read Collins’ letter of resignation, which was leaked to Jonathan Martin of the Politico, with great interest.
Collins served as the Political Director of the Republican National Committee (RNC) for the 2010 election cycle. While it is not uncommon for people in Collins’ position to resign following an election, his four-page letter of resignation, which is a scathing rebuke of RNC Chairman Michael Steele, is odd since Republicans made huge gains in the mid-term election.
Collins’ letter confirms what we already know or suspected of Steele’s term. Steele has been a disaster as RNC chairman. His two-year term has been plagued by mishaps, scandals, and missed opportunities.
It began with Steele criticizing Rush Limbaugh in February of 2009. It continued when he spent thousands of dollars to refurbish his office, held an RNC meeting in Hawaii, and even pondered purchasing a private jet for his RNC travel.
If that wasn’t enough, Steele’s RNC held a fundraiser at a risqué nightclub, and the committee’s own fundraising presentation mocked GOP donors by calling them “ego-driven people who can be tapped with offers of access and tchochkes.” It’s no wonder the RNC wasn’t successful at attracting large donations. One would have to be living under a rock for the past two years to be oblivious to the soap opera that the RNC has become.
On the surface, Collins’ letter stating the inadequacies of the RNC is accurate, but where is his shared responsibility for all of this as the committee’s Political Director? Not only did Collins hold a position of tremendous influence, he also brought with him Derek Flowers and Susan Hepworth, two operatives who worked with him on Romney’s 2008 Iowa caucus campaign.
While he belittles Steele in his letter of resignation, Collins is the one who made the decision to go to work for Steele following the 2008 election. He also made the decision to remain as Steele’s chief political operative through all of the scandals of the past two years.
As Collins bemoans the debt that the RNC racked up, it was Collins who the RNC trusted to spend those resources, not Steele. His letter criticizes Steele’s inability to raise the type of money that was raised in the 2002 and 2006 cycles, and paints himself as some heroic figure who had to pick up Steele’s slack, but he ignores the impact that a sitting Republican President had in raising those funds in previous mid-term elections.
When asked about Collin’s rebuke of Steele at a book signing in Des Moines yesterday, Newt Gingrich said, “I think its unfortunate. I have no idea what was going on behind the scenes. I think there is an old rule generally speaking. If you are that unhappy, you ought to leave. If you stayed, then why are you that unhappy?” The former Speaker’s perspective is interesting considering that he played a major role in the 1994 Republican revolution, to which 2010 is being compared.
Former Iowa Speaker of the House, Chris Rants called Collins a, “Hard charger.” Rants told TheIowaRepublican.com, “He is a planner, and very methodical, so I have no doubt that he did not take this step lightly. When he sets his mind to something, he usually moves heaven and earth to make it happen.”
“Based on everything I’ve heard – especially when I was down in Kansas City for the RNC meeting this summer, it would appear that Gentry’s criticisms are valid. I would say it’s about time someone shown a spotlight into the RNC, and Gentry is in a position to know,” Rants added.
The timing of Collins’ rash resignation is also questionable. While the RNC is a mess, the Republican gains this year exceeded the historic gains of the 1994. Furthermore, just three weeks ago, Collins penned a memo touting the RNC’s improved absentee and early voting programs. ABC News also pointed out a long list of contradictions by Collins. Yet now that Collins wants to transition to a new job or has eyes for Steele’s job, as was reported in the Washington Post, he stabs Steele in the chest in full view of the public.
Collins’ decision to publically leak this information is as self-serving as it is unnecessary. With the 2010 election cycle in the books, he could have quietly walked away from his post at the RNC. It appears that his decision to turn on his boss was either a move to end the chances of Steele getting re-elected to a second term (those chances already appearing slim), or it was a move to help propel his own political career.
While Collins’ actions made waves in political circles across the country, Iowans have come to expect such behavior from him. The scenario that Collins paints in his letter is very reminiscent of what occurred when he was the Executive Director of the Republican Party of Iowa (RPI) in 2004 when Chairman Chuck Larson, Jr.’s National Guard unit was dispatched to Iraq.
Instead of RPI’s co-chair assuming the responsibilities of the chairman, Collins eagerly assumed the roll with the blessing of the State Central Committee. President George W. Bush narrowly won the state that year, a victory for which Collins took much of the credit, but Iowa Republicans lost control of the State Senate and almost lost control of the Iowa House.
If the results of the 2010 elections are unsatisfactory for Collins, then shouldn’t his tenure at RPI in 2004 also be considered unsuccessful? He also was the Executive Director of the Republican Governor’s Association in the 2006 cycle. The results during that cycle were disastrous for Republicans across the county.
Collins’ belief that Republicans could have made further gains had the RNC’s fundraising not been so paltry is also questionable. I would agree that there were a number of congressional races that would have benefitted from financial support from the RNC. There are three examples of this in Collins’ home state of Iowa. However having more money to spend doesn’t always translate into victories.
Collins should know this lesson well since Mike Huckabee beat the Collins-managed Romney campaign by almost ten points in the Iowa caucuses despite Romney being flush with funds in 2008. Additionally, in responding to Collins’ letter, the RNC noted that it actually raised more money in the 2010 cycle than the DNC raised when it experienced its huge victories in 2006.
Nobody doubts that Gentry Collins is a talented Republican strategist, but his ego combined with his vengeful style is what the American people despise about politics.
As Political Director of RPI during the 2008 Iowa caucuses, I became well versed in the heavy-handed way in which Collins operates. Collins was always quick to pick up the phone to encourage RPI to attack McCain, who he ultimately worked for in the general election campaign, or Rudy Giuliani for skipping the Ames Straw Poll or the caucuses as a whole. When the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll was in jeopardy because of McCain and Giuliani refusing to participate, Collins, as manager of the Romney campaign, inquired as to how much money it would take for the event to be cancelled. Essentially, he wanted to bribe the Republican Party of Iowa not to have the straw poll so that the Romney campaign wouldn’t have to bother organizing for it. However, when RPI criticized Romney for not participating in its FOX News debate, Collins sought revenge.
Collins threatened Ray Hoffmann, who was RPI chairman after the Party disclosed that the debate was cancelled because of Romney’s refusal to debate. He lobbied members of the Republican Party’s State Central Committee to fire the Executive Director and Political Director a month before the caucuses.
It’s unfortunate that Collins felt the need to go down this path because it’s simply not necessary. The Executive Committee of the RNC as well as Republicans across the country know that Michael Steele’s chairmanship has been a disaster. If Collins believed that it was necessary to distance himself from Steele’s disastrous leadership, he could have done so within the walls of the RNC or in the interview process with potential suitors.
After seeing Collins’ Machiavellian behavior, one has to wonder if his move to criticize Steele publically will hurt his future prospects. Would a presidential candidate have to worry that Collins could go rogue if the campaign isn’t going as planned? What about those who work along side of him or work for him? Will they be able to trust him, or will they worry that he will throw them under the bus if doing so will benefit him?
I found it ironic that, on the same day an Iowan received the nation’s highest military honor for selfless service, for courage under fire, and for displaying the willingness to give his own life to save the lives of two of his fellow soldiers, we had another Iowan showing personality traits from the opposite end of the spectrum.
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