Just in case you neglected to watch the debate staged yesterday by the five competitors for the job of Republican national chairman – what? you really had something better to do? – allow me to share the most scintillating factoid:The five aspirants own a total of 25 guns.This is apparently quite important, if only as a measure of the requisite Republican machismo. Or perhaps as visceral proof that the candidates love Freedom. Or perhaps it’s meant to suggest that we should all sleep better at night knowing that the Republican chairman is locked and loaded. Or maybe it’s just Republicans behaving as parodies of themselves.I first noticed this Real Man litmus test during the most recent Republican presidential primary season; at an autumn ’07 debate, five of the eight white men on the stage declared that they pack heat at home. A few months later there was another debate, this time featuring the six ’08 candidates for the RNC chairmanship, and what moderator Grover Norquist wanted to know was, “How many guns do you own?”Those six aspirants said they owned a total of 22 guns, but the number could have been way higher, because South Carolina chairman Katon Dawson tried to trump the other guys by claiming that his stash contained “too many to count.” But Chip Saltsman of Tennessee got points for specificity when he itemized the contents of his closet: “I’ve got two 12-gauges, a 20-gauge, three handguns, and a .30-06.”By the way, the only guy at that ’08 debate who didn’t own a gun was the guy who ultimately won the job: Michael Steele. And we all know how well he has performed. Last we heard, the Republican National Committee was $20 million in the hole. On the other hand, it’s worth noting that even though Steele has repeatedly spent the last two years extracting his foot from his mouth, the Republicans nevertheless racked up big gains in the ’10 midterms. Which arguably suggests that it really doesn’t matter who runs the national party office. Who among us will be biting our nails a week from Friday, anxiously awaiting word about whether Steele has kept his job by corralling the support of 85 national committeemen – or whether he’ll lose the post to Reince Priebus or Saul Anuzi or Ann Wagner or Maria Cino?Anyway, conservative activist Grover Norquist was back again yesterday, moderating the latest RNC debate. And again he asked: “How many guns do you own?”Again Steele said, “None.” Cino, a former RNC official, also said, “None.” The room was packed with spectators, but those responses were met with silence.Then came Priebus, who currently chairs the Wisconsin GOP. He proudly declared, “Five!” Finally, a red-blooded American. He was serenaded with applause.Then came Ann Wagner, a Missourian and a former ambassador. Ann Wagner quickly morphed into Annie Oakley: “I may surprise y’all, but we just got a new gun safe for Christmas, and I think there are about 16 in there – everything from pistols and a Glock to shotguns, rifles. And my son, who’s on the combat team at West Point, has an all-out assault rifle. So there you go!”Holy John Wayne, she hit the trifecta: Christmas, combat, assault. Try topping that one. Nobody could. While Wagner was basking in the most sustained applause, ex-Michigan chairman Saul Anuzi sheepishly tallied his gun stash, confessing his failure to measure up: “I feel very inadeqate at four.”Poor Anuzi. The GOP’s macho stakes just keep going up. When he ran in the ’08 party chair race, he said he had two guns. Now he says he has four guns – that’s a 100 percent increase – yet he still looks like a girly man.The latest word is that Steele, the gunless incumbent, won’t win a new term; he apparently got nowhere yesterday with his argument that the party should knock off the orthodox groupthink and become more diverse. (“We do get a little comfortable with ourselves, and we do become so, to the exclusion and detriment of others” – especially the “fresh voices and fresh faces that don’t look and sound like us.”)
Instead, the final balloting on Jan. 14 will likely feature Priebus, Wagner, and Anuzi. In case of a deadlock among the 168 voting RNC members, maybe the three finalists can settle this thing where party orthodoxy apparently deems it most appropriate: On the target range.