The GOP Doesn't Need Leaders like McConnell and Steele

The priority of the Republican Party is to win the trust of the voters they lost after they betrayed their conservative principles. Here’s a tip for those trying to decide who to trust: If someone plays politics with war, then they’ll play politics with less trivial matters. And that’s why voters should demand leaders unlike Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and RNC Chairman Michael Steele.

In July, Bill Kristol and other Republicans called on Michael Steele to resign after he criticized the war in Afghanistan in a reckless and mind-bogglingly stupid fashion. The blunder began with three errors in two sentences: “This was a war of Obama’s choosing. This is not something the United States has actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in,” Steele said. Needless to say, the war began under Bush and to say it wasn’t “actively prosecuted” means that he was criticizing Bush without even realizing it.

He then continued to make a remark that is only a notch or two below Harry Reid’s irresponsible declaration that the Iraq war was “lost.” He said, “Well, if he’s such a student of history, has he not understood that, you know, that’s the only thing you don’t do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan, alright, because everyone who’s tried over a thousand years of history has failed.” Steele was so eager to criticize Obama yet so ignorant that he actually ended up criticizing Bush (again, without realizing it) for sending combat forces into Afghanistan.

Mitch McConnell is a similar case, except he can’t fall back on claiming ignorance. He repeatedly accused Democrats demanding a withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq of retreating and handing the enemy a victory. He knew the consequences of a hasty drawdown in Iraq because he was one of the leading voices articulating them.

Now we know from President Bush’s book, Decision Points, that McConnell came to Bush in 2006 and pleaded for him to “bring some troops home from Iraq” because “your unpopularity is going to cost us control of the Congress.” Bush rejected the idea. “I made it clear I would set troop levels to achieve victory in Iraq, not victory at the polls,” he writes. If McConnell acted so hypocritically and so politically when things got rough, why should voters trust him to not buckle in the future? If he was willing to play politics with war, what makes you think he won’t do the same with things like government spending?

Many Republicans high off of their big victory on November 2 will say that they’ll hold their leaders' feet to the fire so it won’t happen again and that they deserve to be rewarded for the congressional gains. I’ve got news for you — the Republican Party underperformed the polls. Those gains largely came because of an anti-Democratic and anti-incumbent environment, not because of any genius on the part of the leadership.

Can anyone really say that it’s acceptable that Sharron Angle lost by six points when Reid was behind by double digits for most of the race and she was up by 2.7 points in the RCP poll average? Nearly every poll in October showed Reid losing. Every single poll in October had Buck either with a small lead over Bennet in Colorado or a tie that should have been easily overcome given the political environment. Bennet won, albeit by slightly less than one percent. Pat Toomey had a very stable and comfortable lead for most of the race, yet won by only two points. Voters in California are justifiably angry, but Barbara Boxer and Jerry Brown won in landslides — again, when polls showed it a lot closer.

If Reid could make such a comeback, you better believe Obama can, too. The president is in a much better position now than Reid was on the very day of the election. And if you have any remaining confidence in Steele, consider the criticisms of the RNC political director who resigned and how Steele hasn't addressed them. The Republican Party voters deserve more honorable and competent leaders, and the country deserves less opportunistic and ignorant politicians.

In 2007, those of us against a premature withdrawal from Iraq were disgusted with how Congress tried to sabotage the surge before it had a chance to succeed and mandate the removal of combat forces on a short and firm timeline. It’s no accident this happened as the polls took a tectonic shift in the pro-withdrawal direction. McConnell hypocritically tried to secretly switch lanes solely because of those same polls. And Steele, out of monumental ignorance or political opportunism or rigid partisanship, took unjustified shots at the war in Afghanistan.

If they’ll put politics above national security, they’ll put politics above you. That’s the type of inauthentic leadership the Tea Party was birthed to counter. The Republican Party is stuck with McConnell as Senate minority leader for the time being, but it has a chance to move beyond Steele. It’s time for the GOP to clean house.