In his role as Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman, Michael Steele has been a moderate at best and an embarrassment at worst. He has sought to be all things to all men, everything except the conservative leader the Republican Party so desperately needs at a time like this.
During his first year as chairman, he publicly agreed with comedian D.L. Hughley’s assessment that the 2008 Republican National Convention looked like “Nazi Germany.” He criticized Rush Limbaugh’s opposition to President Obama’s socialist policy agenda. And he openly sought to move the Republican Party to a more centrist position under the assumption that such a move would widen its appeal.
He was wrong on all three.
Yet he went far beyond even this foolishness on January 4, when he told Sean Hannity he doesn’t expect Republicans to retake the House of Representatives this coming November — and doesn’t believe they’ll be able to lead even if they somehow do manage to win back the House.
With this kind of optimism flowing from the chair, it’s no wonder tea partiers and Freepers are blazing a trail under the banner of conservative first, Republican second.
This not-so-uplifting leader with the not-so-positive message is the same Michael Steele who criticized Limbaugh and Sarah Palin for breaking ranks with the Republican establishment and supporting Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman over liberal Republican Party candidate Dede Scozzafava in NY 23 in November. That same month, he told Air America’s Ken Kupchik he agreed with the liberal assertion that “white Republicans [are] scared of black folks.” And to prove it, Steele also told Kupchik: “I’ve been in the room [with white Republicans] and they’re scared of me.”
Steele’s ideas scare people, and his idea that Republicans have “screwed up” any chance they may have had in November 2010 is a perfect case in point. After Steele appeared on Hannity’s show, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) “pointed to Steele’s comments as further evidence of a civil war within the GOP and party disarray.” Steele’s comments boosted the spirits of a Democratic Party that is losing public approval faster than ever thought possible. They heard the RNC chair voice his lack of confidence in his own party, and the Democrats were able to forget that the Cook Political Report and others are already projecting that “GOPers are headed for a 20-30 seat pickup” in the congressional elections that are now just 10 months away.
The DCCC is not altogether wrong in thinking there’s a civil war within the Republican Party. There is a battle over the party’s soul taking place between those exerting all their energies to return the party to true conservatism, and those like Steele who take a more pragmatic approach to the party’s growth and success.
The conservative effort is part of a bottom-up, grassroots movement that could not only give the party back to Reagan, but could also give Republicans the House in November. All it needs is for men like Steele to keep their negative and often contradictory opinions in check while rank-and-file party members do the work. This is no time to vacillate between conservatism, quasi-conservatism, and moderation.
If Steele stays out of the way and the Republicans make the gains they’re poised to make in November, he may yet learn how to lead this party. But if he keeps voicing his doubts, opposing stalwarts like Limbaugh, and giving the liberals a fighting chance, he may instead prove to be the Democrats’ best friend.