I'm pushing the name "Stan Jones story" for fun political stories that I'm glad the press covers purely for the entertainment value, even if they have no substantive importance. That's exactly what the vote for Chair of the Republican National Committee is. These sorts of votes are often great for political junkies even if no one of note is involved, but throw in the train wreck that is Michael Steele, and you really have something.
Anyway, just in case anyone paying attention to it thinks otherwise, the position up for grabs today matters quite a bit if you work for the RNC, and may matter if you otherwise have direct business with the RNC. Otherwise? It's very unlikely to be important in any way. Political parties are important in American politics, but formal party organizations are only a small part of what I call our expanded parties -- and within the formal party organizations, the national committees and their bureaucracies are only one piece. A piece, on top of that, which can be enlarged or avoided, depending on circumstance. Including the circumstance we've had for the last couple of years, in which basically no one in the party had any confidence in the administrative skills of the chair. Beyond that, the national chairs often go on TV to spin for the party, but again -- anyone who is good at it will be trotted out whether or not they hold a formal position, and anyone who is bad at it will be politely (or not) shoved off the stage, position or not.
At any rate, for those trying to find some silver lining in a horrible week in American politics, I'll note that there's been very little hyperventilating coverage of the Grave Importance of the vote, today. As long as C-SPAN still covers it and Dave Weigel is tweeting, we junkies get our story, without having anyone pretend it matters.
Beyond that...I'm not sure how well readers here know their American political history, but if you don't: this vote today? This is basically how presidential nominations worked, pre-reform -- that is, up through 1968. Delegates would gather, there would be rumors about who had votes tied up, and then they'd vote. And then vote again, if necessary. Reporters could have a field day, chasing down rumors about kingmakers and deals and the rest of it. Of course, in the first century or so of the convention era (which began in the 1830s, basically), communications were limited and so there was a great deal of uncertainty prior to the delegates actually showing up. Later, most (but not all) nominations were wrapped up early. The other big factor, on the Democratic side, was that through 1932 the "two-thirds rule" required a nominee to get, well, two-thirds of the votes, thus giving any large faction or region (in practice, mainly the South) a veto over nominations. Famously, the 1924 Democratic National Convention needed 103 ballots to find a candidate who could command a supermajority. With only simply majorities needed and changes in communications (and, perhaps, other changes in how the parties were structured and run) multiballot conventions began fading after the 1930s, and then the whole meaning of the delegates and the conventions was transformed by the reforms after 1968. Watching the RNC vote today, however, it's easy to see why reporters who weren't even born the last time there was a multiballot nomination pine for the days of deadlocked conventions. It's quite a good story, even when (as is the case today) there's basically nothing at stake.