The Curious Case Of Michael Steele

Monday night, the Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele was a guest on Hannity, and last night he did a segment with Greta Van Susteren. Steele is pushing a new book he has out called “Right Now: A 12-Step Program for Defeating the Obama Agenda,” and he’s busy generating as much publicity as he can.

Unfortunately, not all of the buzz Steele is generating is particularly good for his employer.

Steele, who our own Ryan Booth has clobbered twice in the last several days for his attempts to profiteer off the rubber-chicken circuit while RNC chair and loopy disbursements to GOP groups in the South Pacific while a critical special election race goes on for Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat in Massachusetts, is alternatively fun to watch on TV and excruciatingly clumsy.

And on Monday, he was mostly the latter.

Steele couldn’t have had a friendlier interlocutor than Hannity, and yet he was still able to let forth at least two quotes sure to dispirit most of the GOP faithful and/or the conservatives and Tea Party types the party needs to absorb. Steele said that the Republican Party “screwed up” when it last had power, and, when asked whether a GOP takeover of the House of Representatives this November was possible, said “Not this year” before crawfishing.

This set off a shower of glee at DNC headquarters and prompted National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain to fire off a bit of damage control:

“Independent political analysts and even liberal columnists have stated that Republicans have a very real shot at taking back the majority in 2010. Make no mistake about it, we are playing to win.”

Nothing Steele has said is patently wrong, of course. It’s clear that the quality of leadership the party offered to the nation with respect to the core principles fueling its rise in the first place – smaller government, fiscal sanity, personal freedom and responsibility – was less than advertised. And making up 40 House seats is a tall order (though in the face of the tidal wave coming this November that number might be easily met). The problem is that as the party’s chairman Steele is absolutely the wrong guy to be making those statements. He has a job to do – and while punditry is a lot of fun, it doesn’t particularly help build the GOP.

As for the new book, its message seems to be more of the same. Steele opens the work with a chapter designed as a mea culpa to the American people for the excesses and sellouts of which the party was guilty in the past decade, and suggests a return to the Reaganite principles which produced the party’s the glory days of the 1980’s. All of this is fine stuff, but it’s arguable whether it promotes the GOP as much as it promotes Steele. And since his job is to get other people elected rather than make himself look good, there is a reason to question whether it’s appropriate.

Besides, the American people aren’t really in the mood for mea culpas after watching Barack Obama traipse around the world trashing our record in front of people with dubious histories like the Turks, Arabs and Austrians. While I’m all for the method of admitting the sin, repudiating it and excoriating the other side for their failure to do so, the RNC chair is probably a lot better served pointing out to the American people how bleak things might be had the GOP not posted some of the accomplishments it did (keeping America safe after 9/11, cutting to zero the income tax rates on large swathes of the American workforce and so forth). These resume items received meager acknowledgement in the legacy media; if the chairman of the party can’t point them out they’ll never be recognized and the overall message of the party is brought down.

The conclusion? Steele generally has the ideology you’d look for in an RNC chair. He’s not a Rockefeller Republican or a RINO, and he’s not of the Lindsey Graham school per se insofar as a desire to dilute the party’s brand in pursuing a failed “big tent” strategy. He does actually understand conservatism’s role in a GOP resurgence. But he’s also cursed with diarrhea of the mouth, and his inability to present the party in a clearheaded and forcefully articulate manner perpetuates the perception that it isn’t ready to lead.

Oh, wait. That’s not a perception implied in Steele’s statements. It’s what he said on Monday.

STEELE: Well, I don’t know yet, because I don’t know all the candidates yet. We still have some vacancies that need to get filled, but then the question we need to ask ourselves is: if we do that, are we ready?

HANNITY: Are you?

[cross-talk]

STEELE: I don’t know. And that’s what I’m assessing and evaluating right now. Those candidates who are looking to run have to be anchored in these principles…. because if they don’t, then they’ll get to Washington, and they’ll start drinking that Potomac River water, and they’ll get drunk with power and throw the steps out the window.

[sigh]

Steele also managed to get into another controversy during the appearance. In defending the Republican party platform he called it a tremendoous piece of political literature (once again, something he’s not wrong about) he threw in an “honest Injun” for emphasis. The PC police took to the usual screaming about that, though the majority of their wailing and gnashing of teeth is nothing more than the usual partisan gamesmanship. I can’t criticize Steele for something so petty and stupid; the fact is we’re long past the time when we as a country could afford to waste time with such trivialities.

Let’s remember that Monday’s pratfalls merely continue a string of goofs from Steele. Jay Cost called him out as a liability back in May of last year when Steele bumbled into a discussion with a radio talk show caller that led to his calling Mitt Romney a flip-flopper on abortion. That followed his gaffe-filled appearance on CNN with D.L. Hughley in March in which he helped assail Rush Limbaugh and agreed that the 2008 Republican Convention was reminiscent of Nazi Germany.

Since last spring Steele has managed to avoid obvious mistakes – until this week.

It would be a crying shame if the Republican Party were to blow the opportunity this year holds for it because the man in charge, who can’t even make policies turns off voters as fast as the Democrats do.

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