As just about everyone who reads political blogs surely knows by now, Michael Steele, Repubican candidate for the Senate in my home state of Maryland, complained to a group of political reporters about how tough it is to run as a Republican, and blasted President Bush on Iraq and Hurricane Katrina. Steele spoke on condition of anonymity but, inevitably, his cover was blown.
To note how tough it is to run as a Republican this year in Maryland is to express no more than a truism, and I have long expected Steele to distance himself from President Bush. But that doesn’t mean he had to spill his guts to a group of liberal journalists, apparently including Dana Milbank — Dana Milbank for goodness sake. And one can distance oneself from the president without attacking him as harshly (and in my view unfairly) as Steele did. Steele showed extremely poor judgment in trying to get his message of moderation out through liberal journalists who would like to see him lose, instead of speaking directly to the voters. Now, with some conservative voters alienated, it will be more difficult (or at least risky) for him to continue to distance himself from the president and the conservative wing of his party.
There have always been, and always will be, Republican politicians who feel the need to assure liberal journalists that they don’t really buy into the party’s conservative message. I’ll give Steele the benefit of the doubt and assume that this unsavory dynamic was not at work here. Indeed, the Steele campaign has claimed that the candidate had many nice things to say about President Bush during the course of the lunch. Nonetheless, I can’t help but view Steele less favorably than I did before this unfortunate incident.
JOHN adds: Coincidentally, in yesterday’s Evans-Novak Report, Bob Novak wrote:
Steele already polls slightly ahead of Mfume, and within reasonable distance of Cardin. Whoever wins the primary, Steele will come out of it with an enormous cash advantage and an opportunity to hit the airwaves aggressively for the last two months of the race. Steele is playing it smart — the conservative base in Maryland know that he is one of them, so no one is dismayed when he throws a bomb in the direction of President Bush or the national GOP.
I think that was written before the interview Paul notes became public. In any event, I agree that distancing oneself from the administration–really, from the party in general–is a delicate task at best, and I wouldn’t be so confident that conservatives won’t be dismayed.