Out with the Man of Steele

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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