Is it time for Michael Steele, Chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), to step down?

It has been a tough tenure — one year and two months, as of this writing — for the former Lt. Governor of Maryland and former chairman of GOPAC. From the very beginning, conservative leaders (e.g., Ken Blackwell and Mike Huckabee) and pundits (e.g., Rush Limbaugh and Star Parker) questioned whether or not Michael Steele was a good choice, doubted his leadership abilities and/or his conservative principles (at least on social issues), and sometimes called for his ouster. As Byron York recounts, “He made a lot of enemies back then, getting a slow start on the job, leaving top positions unfilled, and committing gaffe after gaffe on TV.”

Most of this was eventually rectified, but concerns remained, including whether Steele was spending too much time giving interviews & speeches — including speeches he was handsomely paid for, contrary to the usual policy for the RNC chair — and not enough time cleaning house, raising funds, and responsibly managing RNC finances. As Mona Charen recently put it,

The job demands an administrator, a behind-the-scenes schmoozer, and a tactician. Showboating is a hindrance. It’s a job that requires the talents of a stage manager, whereas Steele likes to be the star.”

Michael Steele, Chairman of RNC

Michael Steele, Chairman of RNC (in happier times)

Steele does seem to be in front of the camera a lot more than his predecessors, but that really isn’t his biggest “problem”, right now. He has been accused of mismanaging the committee’s warchest, as it were. No one’s accused Steele of outright corruption, as far as I know, but the appropriateness of some of the things he has used RNC funds for — e.g., expensive restaurants and hotels, chartered jets, redecorating his office — are highly questionable. This is just a symptom of a larger problem, as evidenced by the fact the RNC spent $15 million more than it raised under Steele’s watch. Financial control and accountability are definitely at issue here, and this does not put the RNC in a good position heading into the midterm elections. (Ironically, fiscal conservatism is supposed to be one of Steele’s strengths, since it is one of the pillars upon which he co-founded the Republican Leadership Council political action committee in 1993.)

On top of this, the RNC got stuck with the almost $2000 tab when some young staffers recently took prospective donors out for an evening at a kinky nightclub. Steele was not directly involved, either in approving the expense or attending the party, but ultimately he is responsible. RNC chief of staff Ken McKay has allegedly been forced out of the committee for accepting the bill for the party, but rumor has it he may just be a fallguy. (A donor has now agreed to reimburse the RNC for the outing.) More to the point, though, the whole incident is both an embarrassment and a distraction from raising much-needed funds and supporting conservative candidates in their election bids.

So, many in Republican ranks — politicians, pundits, and regular joes — are suggesting, even demanding, that Steele resign. Mr. Pink Eyes over at America’s Watchtower has blogged on the matter, expressing his disappointment in Steele’s leadership and urging him to resign. Fifty-eight percent of those polled so far at Townhall.com agree. On the other hand, you have notables like Newt Gingrich, Ann Coulter, Rudy Giuliani, and Mississippi Governor and former RNC Chairman Haley Barbour saying we should give Steele a break and let him do what he needs to do.

I’m of two minds on this, ‘cuz I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt, give him another chance to put the RNC “house” in order, etc. I’ve liked Michael Steele from the first time I heard him on the Hugh Hewitt show a couple years ago. He sounded like a strong conservative, which I think he is on most things. Generally, Steele is quite articulate, though at times he does stumble around a bit verbally and occasionally makes ill-advised or controversial remarks. (Although, sometimes the controversy is because he’s not afraid to be politically incorrect, which I usually like.) Like Linda Chavez at Townhall.com, I think he’s talented, smart, affable, telegenic, with a gift for gab — including hip-hop slang, which I think he needs to be careful not to overuse, even if he is trying to attract more voters from the young, urban/suburban, hip-hop subculture.

But, look at everything that has happened in just the past week or so. In addition to (and largely because of) the above revelations, longtime consultant Alex Castellanos has severed ties with the RNC and stated publicly that Steele’s resignation would be a good idea. Media firm On Message has likewise left the fold. Sean Mahoney, RNC member from New Hampshire, resigned in frustration. And, as Politics Daily summarized, “[former Ambassador and] top fundraiser Sam Fox abandoned ship; Steele hired a fundraiser who was fined for misusing $70,000; two former party chairmen formed the American Crossroads PAC to raise $50 million apart from the RNC; and Steele told ABC he was being held to a higher standard because he is black.”

Michael Steele with arms folded

A very resolute Chairman Michael Steele

All things considered, I’m beginning to realize that Steele’s particular talents may not be enough to overcome all the negatives. Hard as it may be to admit defeat and step down, Steele should indeed do so for the good of the party. At this crucial time, we cannot afford the distraction and the potential scandal that seems to be cropping up around him. If Steele were to resign, the RNC could begin to get the spending under control, distance itself from the mistakes made, and stay focused on the important issues. Unfortunately, Steele definitely doesn’t like that plan. If he refuses to resign, the least he should do is bring in some “third party” to oversee the RNC’s finances and reign in the spending sprees.

Alright, let’s assume that Steele is pressured or otherwise convinced to step down in the next month or two, or that at least 112 RNC members agree to vote him out. Who should take his place? Linda Chavez suggested former Congressman Jim Talent of Missouri. I don’t really know Talent, but he sounds like a good possibility. I think Newt Gingrich would do a bang-up job, but I also think he can probably do more good right now working with his American Solutions and Center for Health Transformation organizations. I haven’t really thought through the following suggestions nor done much research on those I’m less familiar with, but here are a few other possibilities I came up with:

Fred Thompson — former Senator from Tennessee and candidate in the last Republican presidential primaries; known as a straight-talker with Southern congeniality; strong proponent for government efficiency and accountability; according to American Conservative Union, ranks somewhere between Bill Frist and John McCain on the conservative spectrum

Sarah Palin — former Governor of Alaska and Republican nominee for Vice President in the last election; known for strong conservative principles, for inspiring many (especially women), and can definitely raise serious funding

Judd Gregg — soon-to-be former Senator from New Hampshire; also, former Representative and Governor of the state; his moderate record on social issues is a negative for me but, it could be argued, may help unite the party

Jim Bunning — soon-to-be former Senator from Kentucky and a baseball Hall of Famer; considered one of the most conservative Senators currently in office; he is 78 years old, though, has been accused of “bizarre behavior” on occasion and does not get along with Mitch McConnell (the other Kentucky Senator); he also blamed his fellow Republicans for doing “everything in their power to dry up my fundraising.”

Karl Rove — Republican consultant & strategist, political analyst, and former White House Senior Advisor and Deputy Chief of Staff for George W. Bush; credited with many successful statewide, congressional, & national campaigns; early career included being a special assistant in the RNC, followed by executive assistant to the co-chair of the RNC; has had disagreements with the RNC in the past and recently became an advisor to American Crossroads, the abovementioned Republican 527 competitor of the RNC

Whaddayathink, y’all? Like any of them? Think they’re just plain stupid choices? Got any ideas of your own? Let’s hear ’em!

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Comments
  1. wken says:

    I do sort of suspect that Michael Steele is a Whig agent sent to undermine the GOP and give the Whigs a shot at a comeback.

    I do think that criticism is perfectly valid … the GOP is at a very important point, and if the leadership is inept, then it’s going to cost a lot. 2010 should be a huge year for the Republicans — combining normal off-year gains with some very big mistakes made by the Democrats. But Steele seems poised to clutch defeat out of the jaws of victory.

    On the other hand, I like some of your list. I’m from NH, and do like Sen. Gregg quite a bit. Yes, he’s socially rather moderate … I probably wouldn’t vote for him for President because of that, but GOP chairman is right up his alley.

    I don’t think Sen. Bunning could possibly do it. He’s not nearly enough of a team player, and doesn’t get along with the party. He might be able to move into punditry, but I don’t see GOP leadership in his future.

    Gov. Palin and Mr. Rove would certainly excite portions of the party … but might have a hard time with other parts. I’m not sure how that would play out.

    I’m not at all sure what I think of Sen. Thompson. He ran a pretty rough campaign in 2008, but it’s possible that there’s enough distance that he could get along with his former rivals’ supporters. (A big issue for Romney’s people, since he might make a 2012 run.)

    In truth, if he doesn’t plan to make a 2012 run, I think that Mitt Romney would be terrific in this role. Again, not a guy for whom I’d vote for President, but he DEFINITELY has the financial credibility, he’s good at fixing messes (Olympics, anyone?). I can’t speak for other social cons, though. Since it isn’t a real policy position, I’d be willing to let him sidestep that question and work as the administrator that he is.

    But I don’t see him going for it.

    • sirrahc says:

      Great comments/points, wken.

      I didn’t include Romney ‘cuz I have no doubt he’ll make another presidential bid in 2012. But, you’re right, he definitely has the financial credibility, leadership skills and managerial ability to chair the RNC.

  2. John Gault says:

    As a Libertarian, I often find myself stuck between a Republican I don’t respect and a Democrat that I absolutely loathe…I would love to see an RNC chairman that could bring into the fold those groups, like myself, who have always leaned toward the Republicans–but as the lesser of two evils instead of the representative party of good ideas. A successful RNC chairman would have to realize that the impeachment of President Clinton and the 2000 election of W have created a polarized political stalemate that is not likely to break until one of two things happens–the electoral college is eradicated, or one of the two parties manages to make significant and permanent inroads with the “independant middle”. Since the former is unlikely (and probably inadvisable), the latter seems to be the logical course of action. Tea Party Patriots, Libertarians, Reagan Democrats, even those still pining for Perot are demographics that have to be added to the base of evangelical christians if the Republican party is going to get off of this never ending teeter-totter ride that has become the American political landscape. I don’t think that any of the choices you mentioned have the potential of accomplishing this. I wish I could go all “Weird Science” and create an RNC chairman out of the pieces that I value from existing politicians. Maybe suck the crazy out of Ron Paul and replace it with the strategic smarts of Karl Rove and the plastic, political discipline of Mitt Romney? Ahhhh…what a fantasy!

    • sirrahc says:

      Hey, John! Good to hear from you again.

      I’m a bit ambivalent about the electoral college. I looked at it a little bit a couple years ago and was leaning toward thinking it s/b abolished. Then, I think I heard Hugh Hewitt give a pretty convincing argument on why it was needed. Like you, though, even if I thought it was a good idea, I doubt it will go away anytime soon.

      Do you think the evangelical Christians control the Republican Party? I know we’ve been more vocal the past 30 years than the decades preceding — at least, as a group — and I think more people have been open about their religious views. But, I haven’t seen/heard anything to suggest we hold a majority interest, so to speak. (Not that you said this. I’m just wondering, since I’ve heard other non-Christians from both sides complain about the hijacking of the Republican Party.)

      Heh! I like your attempt at creating a hybrid to chair the RNC. I may have to try one myself….

      • John Gault says:

        I wouldn’t go so far as saying that evangelical Christians control the Republican party…I would say, however, that they have been the most actively courted and wooed group BY the Republican party over the last 10 years. I think the most telling example of this was either in ’00 or ’04 (I can’t remember which) when the Gay Marriage Amendment to the Constitution was the “hot button” issue. Whatever your religious or social views may be on the topic, gay marriage is not equal in importance, as an issue for debate, as taxation, foreign policy, individual liberty, the budget, etc. Yet, Republicans pushed the issue to the forefront as a calculated move to raise the ire of Evangelical Christians and get them to the polls.

        I just wish the Republican party would make as concerted an effort to bring in OTHER groups of similar-minded people who may not place the same value on religion but who still hold small-government, low-taxation ideals.

    • sirrahc says:

      Oh, and thanks for leaving a nice, meaty comment. Gotta love those!

  3. LD Jackson says:

    Fist of all, concerning Michael Steele, his problems go way past the financial concerns. He seems to have no idea that the GOP is able to make big gains in the mid-term elections and I think he is putting very little effort towards that. I have a major problem with that.

    Karl Rove=NO! For some reason, I trust that man not at all. I think he is a manipulator of the highest order.

    I would tend to agree with Ken that Mitt Romney would do a fine job, even though I wouldn’t want him as our President.

    • sirrahc says:

      Yeah, I seem to remember he has been a little slow on the uptake on at least a couple issues/opportunities in the past. But, I didn’t come across them and didn’t have time for further research — under my self-imposed deadline, that is.

      Oh, c’mon. Give Rove a break! He’s sharp and a master strategist, but you sound like you believe the MSM’s reports about him. ;-] But, it’s precisely that sense of distrust among even many on the center-Right that makes me think Rove would not work out as RNC’s chair right now. (It may be interesting to watch how his association with American Crossroads fares.)

  4. Mr Pink Eyes says:

    Thanks for the link. While Michael Steele has some good points– which you pointed out– fundraising is way down and that is critical. Michael Steele just doesn’t seem to be getting the message out to the people. We have a real chance to win big in November and it would be nice of the TNC would help out a little bit, Republicans may make gains in November in spite of the lack of fundraising. But just think how big those gains would be if there was leadership at the national level.

  5. Todd Fichter says:

    Michael Steele came in to the job proclaiming that the Republican Party had lost its way, especially in regard to fiscal responsibility. Now it seems that is his major thorn in the flesh. So, I would say, if you can’t walk the walk, it’s time to go.

    Karl Rove – Rove defended Bush in passing TARP. TARP was the last straw for many (now former) Republicans. I would not want ANYONE at the helm of the party who thought TARP was necessary. Fundamental ideological flaw to believe that government can do a better job than free markets.

    Gregg – Voted for TARP (see above). There were a couple of other bills he has voted for (too lazy to look up right now) that showed that he is part of the problem, not the solution.

    Thompson, Palin, and Bunning – Never saw a defense budget increase they didn’t like, and don’t mind us being in the Iraq and Afghanistan for the next 100 years. Wake up! The American people do not want to continue a failed foreign policy of constant interventionism.

    Michael Steele was right when he (along with others) said that the Republican Party had lost its way. Republicans used to be the party of small government, not just in some ares, but all areas. Right now, the establishment continues on a plan of big government (just not as big as the Democrats want), more deficits, and more war. Any leader who comes in has to be willing to rock the boat quite a bit if they want the vote of the 40% self-proclaimed independents out there in the next election.

    One major black in the eye is going to be when non-establishment Republican candidates win their respective primaries. Rand Paul and Peter Schiff come to mind. These two front-runners were first ignored, and now vehemently opposed by party officials. Republican leadership would do well to embrace these and other candidates who seek to bring the party back to its core fundamentals.

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