RNC Chairman Michael Steele’s First Blog Interview

When Michael Steele ran for the Senate in 2006, the Rightroots blogger fundraising group that I ran supported him. When he ran for RNC Chair, he was my first choice. Since then, although he has certainly made a few missteps along the way, I’ve remained a strong supporter of Michael Steele and have continued to believe he is the right man for the job. With all that in mind, I was pleased to get the opportunity to do his first interview with a blog since he became Chairman. Hopefully, after some of the questions I asked him, it won’t be the last one he does.

During the interview, we talked about health care, the Republican Primary process, RNC interference in primaries, and Michael Steele’s conflict with Rush Limbaugh. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation:

I think the question most Americans — who aren’t political junkies — are asking is: which people does this health care bill benefit and which people are hurt by it? They’re asking, “What does it do for me? Is it a plus for me or a minus for me?” Whom would you honestly say this bill helps and whom would you honestly say this bill hurts?

This bill, in all honesty, helps the federal government. This is a redistribution of one fifth of our economy away from the private sector…

Two, it’s a federal bureaucracy to be created. That’s the thing to keep in mind. What they’re talking about has not been created yet. They’ve got to go put the relevant parts together. This is a lot like building Frankenstein’s monster. You know you got to go out and grab a piece of this and a piece of that and cobble together a new health care system into which you will inject citizens and the private sector economy with respect to health care and then go from there.

Keep in mind you’re being asked to pay for something now, that you won’t be able to…access for four years. That’s like you buying a car today, putting cash on the barrelhead for the car, and the dealer telling you, “OK, you can take delivery in four years.” Would you buy that car?

No way!

Well, why the heck would you buy this health care plan? It makes no sense. But see — this is the arrogance of Pelosi, Reid, and Obama — they think we’re so doggone stupid that we’re going to actually buy this idea, that they can take $500 billion out of Medicare, a…system that’s on its way to bankruptcy and there won’t be a problem — that they could ramp up our taxes and the regulations and the cost of health care on the front end to pay for the craziness they want to do on the back end. Oh, and then you get to access the system four or five years from now.

The primary way they seem to be selling this is as a cost saving maneuver. I have to tell you that seems kind of odd because it’s very hard for me to see, and I think for a lot of Americans to see, how you can cover thirty million more people and have the government create all these huge bureaucracies to manage it and cut costs. What do you think of that?

Let me answer that question this way. Consider what it would cost you to add one more mouth to feed in your house and then you’d have to build out the infrastructure within your family to care for that individual. So that means providing an education, providing clothes, and the other things that individual needs. …So, yes, there is a cost to add one person. Now we’re talking adding thirty million to a system, a bureaucratized system. …It makes no sense.

So, the losers in this whole proposition are the moms and the pops, the granddads and grandmas, the small business owners out there, the employers, and the workers who currently like their health care. 85 percent like their health care. 82 percent of them don’t want to see their health care change. But what they do want to see is the cost to go down. They do want that issue addressed and the Republicans have proposed for these seven or so months, a series of options to do that — from tort reform to portability to small business pools, to expanding HSAs — which have basically been eliminated under this new government health care regime. So you don’t even get to save anymore for your own health care. You don’t even get to take your own dollars and spend it the way you want for your own health care.

Little things like that add up and it tells me, and it certainly tells the American people, that this is a boondoggle with an enormous trap on the back end with respect to your wallets and your freedoms — that’s the key thing. More than anything else, this health care proposal takes away your freedoms. I think…individuals making the kind of decisions they’ve had to make over the years about health care, the types of doctors that they need, the kind of care they want to receive…is important.

So there’s a lot at stake in this thing, and my hope is that between now and whenever that vote is cast, that conservatives around this country get on the phone, get in their car, do whatever they can to get word to Senator Ben Nelson and anyone else who’s on the fence to stand with the people. Ask him one question, “Whom do you trust, us or Harry Reid? Whom do you believe, us or Harry Reid? Whom do you take your orders from, us or Harry Reid?” I think the answer to those questions will tell people a lot about what they need to do next November, with all of those members who trust Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and Barack Obama more than they do us.

On this bill that’s coming up, you said you’d ask them whom they trust. Are Barack Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi, being truthful about this bill, or are they misleading people about what it does?

I think there’s a lot of misleading about what it does, to be very honest about it. I don’t think you get the whole picture. I think when you get the CBO score on this bill, you need to understand that Harry Reid did not give the CBO everything Harry Reid knows that’s going to be in that bill. So the number that will come out (is designed) to get those nervous Democrats comfortable with a bad bill. That’s the truth, because this thing is going to cost you and me and our future generations of kids and grandkids over $1.3 trillion today.

So if it’s costing us over a trillion dollars today, what’s it going to cost us in four years when the doggone thing actually gets implemented, and I can get to access this new health care regime?

…That’s why I think it’s a very bad mistake for the President, Reid, and Pelosi to mislead not just the American people, but…their own members with respect to what this thing is going to do to get their vote. (Why not) just put it all on the table? What are you afraid of? Call it what it is. This is a takeover by the federal government of health care. OK, that’s number one. Number two, it’s going to cost us over a trillion dollars a year to do it. Number three, all the choices you enjoy now with health care, you won’t have when this is implemented. That’s number three, I’m not making it up, it’s in the bill. Number four, there will be commissions and groups and quasi-governmental organizations formed to regulate and control your access to this health care system. That’s called rationing. It’s in the bill.

I could go on. Let’s just put it out here and then let the American people decide whether or not that’s what they want for health care. I don’t know what they’re afraid of. Oh, yes, I do.

A lot of conservatives feel the presidential primary process places too much emphasis on New Hampshire and Iowa, while simultaneously slanting the process against conservative candidates with open primaries — a lot of them early. Is RNC working on redoing the primary system?

Well, we’re in the middle right now of work on that subject. At…the 2008 convention, the members empowered a temporary Delegate Selection Committee…comprised of members of the RNC and members chosen by the chairman from outside of the RNC, to take a closer look at the delicate selection process and to begin to address that for the 2012 primary season… So we’re in the middle of that process now. We finished up public hearings in November. We will take the next few months for deliberation and drafting a proposal that will then go to the members at our summer meeting in July, a place to be determined.

…I’ve been working very closely with the Democrats, Tim Kaine, and representatives who were involved with the ’08 cycle for the Democrat Party, so that we are at least consistent with where we want to go with the primaries. In other words neither party wants to have the Iowa primary on February 2 for the Democrats and on February 9 for the Republicans. So the goal is to get as close as we can on where each party is on this whole primary process, and then have our primaries at the same time so we’re not out of sync in that regard.

And the other point that you know is going to be clear is that the protected states, if you will, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and I believe Nevada for the Democrats — are still protected. So there’s no talk, at least not now, about how all that’s going to get played out. We just start with those states as sort of a bench mark, and then kind of work from there.

So it’s an involved process and the goal would be to have the system designed in a way — and I think this is to the point to a lot of the conservatives so you can have a competitive primary process….

Let me ask something I asked the last chairman of the RNC when I interviewed him way back — and he really didn’t have much to say about it — so I just want to see what you want to say. A lot of people think the RNC should not get involved in Republican primaries. What do you think?

Well, I say, absolutely. …The last thing I wanted when I was a State Chairman or …when I was a County Chairman, was for the RNC to put its nose under my tent with respect to elections I have responsibility and charge for. Now as the National Chairman, I still hold that view and do not believe a proper role for the RNC is to inject itself in the primary.

Now, our rules do provide for such an opportunity only, only when we receive what is called a Rule 11 letter…that allows for the State Chairman, the National Committee man and the National Committee woman to all sign the letter saying that this candidate is the one that we endorse for the general election.

…There are other elections that are occurring next year where a rule 11 letter has already been done because either there is only one candidate that is going to be in the race and you don’t want to have to sit around with your hands tied when there’s no other primary challenger. (That way) you can go ahead and start basically your general campaign now, as opposed to waiting until next September when the primary is over.

(There can also be a case where) you’ve got, you know, one very, very strong candidate and a number of very, very weak candidates and so as to not tie up resources, you get behind the (leader). But that’s a decision that’s made at the state level, by the state party leadership, and then when we receive the letter, we still have the option of not getting involved in that race if there are: circumstances that warrant it.

…My general view is that the national parties should stay out of the primaries. Let the primaries work themselves through, and when they’re done, we get whole hog behind the nominee and win the general election.

That’s a great attitude to have. You had a big flap with Rush Limbaugh early on. Have you guys made up? Any thoughts about it now?

Actually Rush and I laugh about this. The media made it a flap. There was no flap. It’s just one of those things where you take what somebody says, then you say, “Hey, did you hear what he said about you?” and then you go back to the other person and say, “Did you hear what he said about you?” Well, the reality of it is Rush and I have been buddies a long time. Whenever he’s in the Washington area, we get together and so there’s no flap.

As I pointed out at the time, it was a nice little convenience for Carville and Company to sort of drill down on that and make a lot of noise about it because, you know, it’s great to have Republicans in disarray when they’re trying to nationalize health care.

There are a lot of conservatives out there who just simply don’t trust the Republican Party that much. They think the GOP hasn’t learned a lot from the Bush years and they’re afraid the GOP will get back into power and they’ll get kicked to the side again. What do you say to someone who says, “You seem like a nice guy, I like you, but I’m not sure I trust you to look after conservative interests?”

Well, first off I’m a conservative, so that would mean you don’t trust me to look after my own interest. I am, trust me, concerned about my interest…and my interest is that we have a strong conservative party.

As I said when I got elected, on CNN and Fox, and other networks, we are the conservative party of this country and I love this battle right now because the Democrats are finally admitting that they’re liberals.

So we’ve got this great, you know, philosophical and ideological debate about how government functions, what role it plays, how taxes are collected and paid, how resources are distributed or not distributed, how wealth is created or redistributed, how individuals get to make the important choices that define not just their livelihood, but how they raise their kids, and educate those children and retire into their golden years. So this debate we’re having now, for me, gives us conservatives a chance to really step up and shine.

Look, we’ve spent the better part of four years, looking at our navels. We were mad, we were angry, frustrated, disappointed. The Contract with America was abandoned by some that we thought moved away from those principles once they got into office and you had a dispirited conservative base.

I think now is the chance to take our heads out of our navels and look to the future and articulate those principles in a genuine way. We saw that in New Jersey, we saw it in Virginia, and look what happened: we won. We didn’t run away from conservatism in Virginia and New Jersey — in New Jersey, for goodness sakes. Chris Christie was very proud to talk about his conservative ideals and how those ideals would apply to tax policy and transportation policy and the like and the people said, “Yes, it’s better than what we’ve got right now.” It gives us the freedom to free up capital and to free up resources so we can invest in other things besides the state government.

So those principles still matter and I think conservatives, whether you’re part of the Tea Party movement, or the 9-12 movement, the Town Hall movement or your own independent movement — I hope people appreciate that when it’s time to put everything into action and to engage in the political process through elective office, …we want to partner and work together…

Thank you, Chairman; that was outstanding. Really appreciate your time.

You got it, friend; take care.

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