Why are these men smiling? (image via politico via AP)
Michael "Drill, Baby, Drill" Steele, like the Holy Roman Catholic Church, is not particularly adept at handling the modern media behemoth. Considering that the Church is the most conservative institution in the Western world and Chairman Steele, too, fancies himself as one, the question arises as to whether or not this PR-blindness is a philosophical weakness of that ideology.
Dramatically, after 6 rounds of balloting in January 2009, Michael Steele won the Republican National Party Chairmanship. It was a curious political parallel, to be sure, at a time when the first African-American President was about to take office. Nationally, the Republican party usually gets less than 10 percent of the African-American vote, so it was also clearly a move in a more inclusive direction for a party that has not been, historically, particularly inclusive. Anyway, such a move might also ingratiate Independents and soccer moms, both demographics that the Republicans lost in the last presidential election. In that sense the move to Steele -- though it took quite a few ballots -- was more smart than cynical, a sign that the thumping they took in 2008 -- among the young, women and people of color, the rising money demographics in American politics -- was not without a wisdom gained from the experience. From January 2009, I wrote:
The crucial moment in the balloting -- which went through 5 go-throughs -- was when Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, a conservative from a crucial state, dropped out and endorsed Steele, the former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland. As geeky as it sounds, it was all very exciting, and chronicled -- via Tweets -- on Chris Cilizza's Hyperfix. What makes the whole thing so much more delicious is that former RNC Chair candidate Chip Saltsman destroyed his own chances and had to drop out of the race yesterday after sending out a racist -- or at least unbelievably stupid and offensive -- CD entitled "Barack the Magic Negro."
One mightily contentious health care debate later, and one year of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression passed, Steele's tenure -- despite his popular, Bojangles-y cheerleading role during the profoundly monochromatic 2008 GOP convention -- has been rocky. The Republican party is presently stressing fiscal discipline as a contrast to the perceived "spendthrifty" -- though more subtle minds might call it "Keynesian (pronounced, of course, by sub-literate Teabaggers "Kenyan")" -- ways of the Obama administration. Michael Steele's lavish stewardship of the national party is seen as wholly disengaged from the fiscal leanness message of the soi-dissant patriotic grassroots.
We will not entertain the possibility that this has anything to do with race (Averted Gaze).
The Voyeur club scandal -- remember that "bondage themed nightclub" episode -- has taken its toll. According to Mediaite: "Michael Steele told ABC’s George Stephanpoulos yesterday he had no plans to step down as RNC Chairman ... two of those close to Steele have cut ties with him and the RNC – a big blow to Steele’s future. The losses of Ken McKay, RNC Chief of Staff, but also Steele adviser Curt Anderson."
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who actually did his 1971 doctoral dissertation on Belgian education policy in the Congo, is coming, gallantly, to Steele's defense. Gingrich is actually trying to get the focus off of Steele, the first African-American RNC Chair, and onto the mid term 2010 elections. It is a clever move, one that may buy Steele some time, making his continued office at the RNC dependent upon the GOP's performance in the mid-terms (at which time the opposition party generally gains seats against the President's party).
But there is, of course, a problem. If Gingy fails to rally the troops and Steele is as tenacious as his name, clinging to the position despite significant opposition, the RNC could see a marked decline in fundraising cashdollars -- the mother's milk of politics. And even if donors, say, spend their hard earned cash on individual races where they believe that their donations will be parcelled out more frugally, it means that the get-out-the-vote coffers controlled by the RNC will be thin. No matter how much money individual candidates or the RGA or the RNCC have, if the RNC suffers as a result of the grassroots not feeling that their donations are met with fiscal seriousness at the top, the 2010 get-out-the-vote campaign for the Republican party in opposition will suffer.
And that's one to grow on ...