I Give Up On Michael Steele

When Michael Steele ran for the Senate in Maryland in 2006, the Rightroots fundraising group that I led enthusiastically supported him. Then, when Steele ran for RNC chairman, I backed him for that, too. There were a lot of qualified candidates who could have done a good job: Saul Anuzis, Ken Blackwell, Katon Dawson — but, I thought Steele would be the best man for the job. After having Mike Duncan as RNC Chair, a guy who seemed to be hiding from the press all the time, I thought it would be great to have a guy with a lot of charisma, who seemed to get it, as our next RNC chairman. Here was a man with new media savvy, who could help out with minority outreach, who could get the hidebound RNC back on the right track.

Steele didn’t get a particularly warm reception, but that came with the territory. Given the relationship between the base and the Republican Party, anybody short of Jim DeMint was going to have a tough time being credible with the base — and Michael Steele, God bless him, ain’t Jim DeMint.

Right off the bat, Steele did some things I liked. He cleaned house at the RNC. He hired some really savvy new media people who did — and are still doing — some great work to bring the RNC into the 21st century technologically.

But Steele also made some dumb comments, particularly about Rush Limbaugh, that irritated people and worse yet, reinforced the stereotype that he wasn’t someone who could be trusted by conservatives.

Still, I stuck with Steele. My reasoning was that he was still in transition from being a commentator to working the RNC and he was having a little trouble adjusting. That could happen to anyone, right? Except in Steele’s case, he’s still semi-regularly saying dumb things, which means it’s just something that comes with the package, not a case of learning the job. That’s a big problem in that one of Steele’s primary strengths : is supposed to be that he can be a great spokesman for the party. It’s kind of hard to be spokesman when you’re sticking your foot in your mouth every five minutes.

Then there was Steele’s book tour. Granted, Steele’s not the first RNC Chairman to do a book. But, after people were decidedly unhappy with Mel Martinez for being a part-time chairman and they were very unsure about Steele, going on a book tour didn’t look good. It made Steele look like he was more interested in promoting himself than promoting the party.

Of course, we also can’t forget about the money issue. Steele has done a decent, but not spectacular job of fund raising given the lay of the land. However, the RNC hasn’t done a good job of holding expenses down. Some of that comes with the territory. When the party isn’t in power and the other side holds the White House, you have to spend more money on bells and whistles to attract donors. All that being said, this is a crucial year for Republicans, the RNC is typically the cash cow of last resort for candidates across the country, and they’re not banking cash. We are going to capture less races than we otherwise would in 2010 because the RNC is not getting the job done on the money front. Whatever the reasons may be for it, that’s Michael Steele’s responsibility.

Steele’s forays into race issues have been bothersome as well. He’s out there telling people he’s being treated differently because he’s black, he’s saying that black Americans have no reason to vote for the GOP — honestly, the GOP doesn’t need a black RNC chair who’s reinforcing negative — and false — stereotypes about the party. Worse yet, I think it’s pretty obvious that Steele isn’t likely to be invited to continue on as Chairman after the election and given his previous comments, I could easily see him playing the race card to explain it. That just doesn’t say much for Steele.

Last but not least, Steele is now touting amnesty behind closed doors. Twice now, we’ve had people come forward and say that Steele is promoting comprehensive immigration reform. The first time, I figured that maybe the activist was misinterpreting (accidentally or otherwise) what Steele said. Once might be an accident, but now it’s happened twice:

In a private meeting with Hispanic Republican activists last week, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele called for a comprehensive immigration policy that puts families first — a stance at odds with some conservatives in his party who see border security and enforcement as top priorities.

…“If we want to have a comprehensive policy that is uniform around the nation, then the federal government has got to step up,” Steele told the activists. “I look forward to our Republican leadership putting on the table good solid efforts to create the kind of reform that takes in mind first and foremost the family, that recognizes that this is not a nameless composition.

“That there are moms and dads, grandmas and granddads, and children, generations, that are affected by the decisions that are made in Washington D.C.,” he continued. “So my promise is to make sure that the family is the focus as well. Not the just the statistics that show up on paper.”

Congress needs to realize that immigration policies crafted in Washington have a real world impact on families and workers “trying to pursue a dream,” he said.

I’m of the opinion that families should come first, too. However, unlike Michael Steele, I think they should be American families.

Quite frankly, Steele’s support for comprehensive immigration reform is baffling. Even John McCain, the guy who led the fight for comprehensive immigration reform, is claiming to no longer support the policy — which incidentally, proved to be one of the biggest political blunders of recent years. It also undoubtedly cost the RNC millions of dollars in donations during Bush’s 2nd term. Given how poorly the RNC is doing in the cash-on-hand category, I don’t know why Steele wants to dip his toes back into a proven funding killer. Yet, here’s Michael Steele, a guy who has lost the support of a significant portion of the base, talking up comprehensive immigration reform AKA amnesty behind the scenes.

At some point, it all becomes just too much. For me, this is that point. Maybe I’m late to the party, but better late than never. So, let me just spell it out: I give up on Michael Steele.

PS: As a practical matter, the votes don’t seem to be there to replace Steele, so we’ll have to suffer through his chairmanship for the rest of 2010. But, we need to do what we can to limit the damage he’s causing to the party, and after this election cycle Steele needs to go.

PS #2: I think John Cornyn over at the NRSC needs to be replaced, too. That means, ironically, Pete Sessions at the NRCC, the guy who spent big money on Dede Scozzafava, is the party leader I have the most confidence in at the moment.

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