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Michigan GOP chair Saul Anuzis on his bid to be national RNC chair

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

HH: Right now, I’m going to talk with another candidate for the RNC chairmanship, Saul Anuzis. Saul has been the chair of the Michigan GOP for many years. Saul, welcome to the program, great to have you on.

SA: Well, it’s great to be with you again, Hugh. Thank you.

HH: Tell me first, why did we get hammered in 2006 and 2008?

SA: Well, I think we lost our way. Until the national leaders in Congress actually start standing up for our conservative principles, we’re not going to win. We need to put forward some type of agenda that addresses people’s real problems, with real solutions, and then stand on our basic conservative principles. And I think we lost our credibility, and we lost our ability to actually deliver on those principles that people thought were Republican principles.

HH: Now Saul Anuzis, how great is the tech gap, the technology gap between the RNC and the DNC?

SA: Well, unfortunately right now, it’s huge. If you take a look at what happened, say, in 2002, 2004, the Republicans actually led the way, whether it was with micro-targeting, or get out the vote efforts. Even this year, we were pretty creative in starting to use VOIP technology. But I think what Obama did particularly, and the Democratic Party did very effectively, was the social networking aspects that just killed us across the board with young voters, young professional voters, and those people who are involved in technology realizing that so much of our information now comes from the internet.

HH: If you’re the new RNC chairman, how would you close that gap?

SA: Well, I think first of all, we’ve just got to get people who understand what it is and start using it. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, you know, blogs or just finding information on the internet in general, I think there’s still a lot of people who don’t have a good idea of where they can go for the best information and the latest information for our candidates, and where our people stand on the issues. And so I think we have to make the investment to make this happen nationally. We’ve got some very talented people out there on the right who have been active not only in the blogging world, but in the high tech world. And we have to incorporate that technology in every aspect of a campaign. Not just have a separate section that says hey, we’re going to shoot out e-mails once a week or once a day, but people who actually use it on a day to day basis.

HH: Now Saul, I put out a Twitter column last week at about Twitter, and discovered you are Twittering as are many of your colleagues and supporters. But my guess is that fully 75% of our Congressional delegation have no idea what it is.

SA: Well, it’s probably true, but there’s quite a few members who actually are now Twittering. And there’s even more that are participating on the blogs of their own, and actually read and write blogs. You talked about Eric Cantor. Actually, I ran into Eric one time in Washington, and we were at a caucus meeting that was coming out of the Capitol Hill Club there, and he walked up to me and he recognized my beard, and he said hey, you’re Saul Anuzis. He said I actually read your blog. And I was standing there with a couple of members from my delegation, and they looked at him and said what? So there are members who get it, and there are members who are participating. And look, take a look at what Barack Obama did. I mean, he had close to 60,000 people following him on Twitter every day. That is just a phenomenal kind of buy-in that activists and believers had that helped create this Obama phenomenon around the country.

HH: All right, Saul, where do you get your information from, because it matters to me a lot that we have an informed chairman. What books have you read recently? Which blogs do you read?

SA: Well, I mean, I think like many people, I probably start the day and go through a couple of times through the day on Drudge to see what the latest news is coming on. I think Mark Halperin’s got a great service that he calls The Page that comes out every morning, and has a summary of the top political stories from the Washington Post, the New York Times, Marc Ambinder, Politico, et cetera. And so I think for political news, that probably gives you one of the best sources of what’s the latest information, coming both from the right and the left. With respects to books, well being an election year, I didn’t read too many books. The last two books I actually read were Newt Gingrich’s Real Change, which I thought was very timely and very meaningful for where we’re going as a party, and also Grover Norquist’s Leave Us Alone, which is, I think, does a very good job of describing some of the coalitions that are necessary, and the process that will be necessary for us to rebuild a Republican and a conservative majority. And then I probably reread every year, and I did it again this time a couple of times, Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive. I just think it’s one of the better management books out there, and it’s always good, it’s one of those paperbacks that looks pretty used and abused on my bookshelf.

HH: Now one of the key issues that separates Democrats from Republicans is the approach to the war on terror, and to Islamist jihadism. And there’s some great books out there…

SA: Right.

HH: …like The Looming Tower, and I’m talking with the guy who wrote The Nuclear Jihadist in the next hour to talk about Pakistan and India. How do you stay up to date on that? And does the party need to really be out in front on making sure the Obama administration stays forward leaning in the war on terror?

SA: Well, absolutely. This may be the one area that we will be able to cooperate most effectively with the Obama administration. I mean, if we believe Obama’s rhetoric, and if we take a look at even appointing Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, and some of the other picks he’s made with keeping Gates and others, I think that there is some opportunity there to make sure that we realize that the war on terror is something that is going to be a long-lasting war, is something that is not going to go away overnight. There is no clear victory, there isn’t going to be a flag that is lowered or taken over. And so I think we do have to be very vigilant. We have to remember what that challenge means to us, that President Bush, for maybe all the pluses or minuses that people can talk about what happened during his administration, kept our country safe. I feel a lot more comfortable with the fact that we’re fighting the war there versus here. But at the same time, this is something that everybody has to be kept very much aware of what’s going on, and stay on top of it. And I think we get plenty of coverage in the different news media. You have to understand what some of the background is to it, and I think it’s going to be a big…I have four teenage boys, one actually in college and three teenagers, and this is something that we’re going to be dealing with for a long time. And I keep telling them this is something that’s not going to go away overnight.

HH: Okay, what about the Latino vote? We lost whatever progress George Bush had made in ’04 was gone and backwards in ’08. Why? And what do we do about it?

SA: Well, I think if you take a look at the Latino vote, if you take a look at the African-American vote, even the Asian vote, we did lose tremendously. And these are people that share our values. And I think that until we start talking about those values again to that group of people, and can articulate those values, we’re not going to win elections.

HH: Which values are you talking about, Saul?

SA: Well, I’m talking about whether it’s traditional family values, whether it’s the entrepreneurial opportunity society, free market values, I mean, you’re talking about a very entrepreneurial type of class of people. You’re talking about people who believe in the markets and family, core family principles. And so I think we have to be able to articulate them. I was talking to a black minister here just last week, and we were talking about how to address people in his Church. And we actually were reminiscing about Jack Kemp’s campaign back in ’88, and he said today, you’re basically going to approach the African-American community from a standpoint of social values. And then you will bring them in economically. But I also think we have to remember our heritage. I mean, the Republican Party was founded on actually, it was called the civil rights party at one time.

HH: But what about immigration reform, Saul, because this is where I think we lost Latinos, is that the rhetoric that they heard, it wasn’t exclusively, but the rhetoric they heard in that debate was angry and nativist. They did not hear people, they could not distinguish between a demand for border security and anti-Latinoism.

SA: Absolutely, and I think the rhetoric and the tone of our discussion is critical. In fact, Jeb Bush and I were talking about this last week, and he brought up the fact that if you take a look at governors like himself, Perry in Texas and others that have actually successfully appealed to the Latino vote, much of it is the rhetoric. And it’s the tone that we put out. When we sound bitter, when we sound mad, unfortunately there’s a lot of voters that don’t pay attention to the details. All they hear are the soundbytes, and they see the emotions that come through. You know, I didn’t learn to speak English until I was seven years old. My family immigrated to this country from Lithuania for the American dream, to live that American dream. We didn’t get any special treatment. We didn’t want any special treatment. We just wanted the opportunity…

HH: They picked Michigan?

SA: Pardon me?

HH: They picked Michigan?

SA: Well, they actually started out in Brooks, Minnesota, then came over to Michigan because of the auto factories.

HH: Oh, so they wanted to get warmer. But they picked a place without any football. That’s what…I just can’t understand that. Saul Anuzis, before we run out of time, I’ve got to ask you, Michael Steele was on the program last week, he’s generally believed to be the frontrunner in this race for the RNC.

SA: Right.

HH: Can you catch him? And if you do, why will you catch him? And if you win, what will distinguish your chairmanship?

SA: Well, I think I can catch him. Look, I think this is a wide open race. I do agree probably Michael’s got a lot of star quality. People know him, he’s an accomplished speaker and commentator, and has a record of his own obviously as Lieutenant Governor, et cetera. But you know, we’re talking about rebuilding the party from the grass roots up. We’re talking about appealing to the middle class. We’re talking about how do we get back some of the voters that we’ve been losing? And I think I very well represent that constituency that we have to go back after. I think I can walk into a Latino community as a first generation immigrant and address them differently. As a former Teamster, and somebody who grew up in the city of Detroit in the auto factories, the way my father spent 32 years, I think I can address the Reagan Democrats that we have to get back. So part of it is that. And also, I actually live this technology. I actually am on the cutting edge when it comes to what we do in campaigns and elections. And if you take a look at what we as the Michigan Republicans did, we’re in a blue state that can go red under the right circumstances. And when we talk conservative philosophy, when we’ve got candidates like a John Engler who won for governor here, and Spence Abraham for the U.S. Senate, even when we lost presidential races, we can win as Republicans when we talk about the philosophies, and do the things that are necessary. And I think I can show how and when I’ve done that, and what we could do for the rest of the country.

HH: Saul Anuzis, I look forward to talking to you again in January as we get closer to the vote for the RNC chairmanship. Have a great holiday, a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and keep Twittering away. He’s one of my Twitter partners at

End of interview.

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