Michael Steele’s days as RNC head appear to be numbered. However, Steele is fighting to keep his job. To that end, he is now claiming credit for saving the Republican Party from a schism by reaching out to the Tea Party movement. He contrasts himself to unnamed members of the “the Washington crowd who treated the Tea Party with disdain or condescension.”
There’s some irony in this, given Steele’s own past condescending statements. In 2009, Steele dismissed Rush Limbaugh as an “entertainer” whose show is “incendiary” and “ugly.” In those days, Steele thought the path to victory for Republicans was through a conciliatory posture, not through the modern equivalent of tossing tea into the harbor.
Steele reinforced this theme later in 2009 when he suggested that Republicans need to offer African-Americans things in order to win more of the black vote. Indeed, Steele foreshadowed leftist attacks on the Tea Party by blaming Republicans for the “impression we’ve created. . .that we don’t give a damn about them or we just outright don’t like them.”
I’m grateful that Steele, having eventually realized which way the wind was blowing, spoke nicely about the Tea Party once it emerged as a force. Had he continued to take his earlier line, Tea Party members might, indeed, have questioned whether they have a place in the Republican Party.
But being a competent “weatherman” isn’t reason enough to keep Steele on as RNC chairman given his history of gaffes and, more importantly, his inability to raise money efficiently, which culminated in the RNC’s cancellation of its 72-hour get-out-the-vote effort due to lack of funds.
UPDATE: Steele’s argument implies that another RNC head in his position would have denounced or otherwise alienated the Tea Party movement after its sudden emergence. I can’t imagine such an RNC head.
In contrasting himself to “the Washington crowd” that “treated the Tea Party with disdain or condescension,” Steele probably has Karl Rove and John Cornyn in mind. But neither treated the Tea Party with disdain and condescension.
Rove, in his capacity as a commentator, merely questioned the quality of a few candidates nominated with the support of the Tea Party Express. His concerns proved to be well-founded. Cornyn threw his weight behind a few candidates disfavored by the Tea Party because he thought other candidates maximized the chances of Republicans winning the seats. In some cases his assessments were sound and in others they were flawed.
But neither Rove and Cornyn was the head of the RNC. A commentator’s job is to comment (Steele would be good at that); the NRSC head’s job is to try to pick winners. Both jobs can entail offending various factions at times. But this doesn’t mean that, as RNC head, either Rove or Cornyn would have blown off the Tea Party movement. In fact, neither blew it off in the capacities they had.
In any event, neither Rove nor Cornyn is in the picture for the RNC job. It won’t be difficult to replace Steele with a non-Washington operative who said nice things about the Tea Party in 2010.
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