A little bit in defense of RNC Chairman Michael Steele
It’s nice to see Tucker Carlson’s The Daily Caller not pulling any punches where Michael Steele, the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, is concerned. Coming out swinging on a Monday morning when Washington’s chattering classes are finally getting over their health care reform hangover with a tale of private planes, left coast lesbian bondage clubs, and the Republican high life is a sign that his new website can do real journalism. I hope they’ll keep it up and continue to make themselves into more of a right-leaning Talking Points Memo.
Of course, it’s also worth bearing in mind that Carlson’s story is probably the result of an ongoing intra-mural conflict within the GOP over who will should be running the RNC.
Now look, I’m not defending Michael Steele outright. A part of me wants to joke along with the tweet that was being circulated today from Jacob Weisberg at Slate: “Michael Steele should be fired. After that, I’m up to hang out with him.”
But it’s worth rememering how Steele got where he is, and that there are people who really want to hand him his walking papers for reasons that are not all great.
Steele, a former Maryland lieutenant governor who unsuccessfully contested the Old Line State’s open Senate seat in 2006, did not ascend to the head of the RNC easily. Rather, he was only elected to the post by his party’s membership after a bruising campaign that saw all manner of race-baiting and other conflict among the participants. Much of it concerned the very question of what kind of party the Republicans would be in the future. Which is to say that there are quite a few people within the Republican establishment who see Steele as a failure, and would like very much to see his tenure shortened. And a story published this afternoon from Sam Stein at the Huffington Post makes clear that whoever put this story in the hands of The Daily Caller clearly wants to build the momentum to force out Steele from this chairmanship.
The effort to oust Steele has been underway for some time, and this isn’t the first time that Steele has gotten zinged from within conservative media by charges that he was spending the RNC’s money too freely. Last May I noted a story about charges that he was overpaying his personal assistant at the RNC. Of course, when I contrasted the wages Steele’s secretary was set to earn with the amount by which is predecessor’s secretary had been underpaid, it suddenly cast Steele in a new light as a guy who wanted to pay good money to people who would be there around the clock to work hard for him.
Meanwhile, Democrats are leaning back, enjoying the prospect that Steele’s misfortunes will create opportunities for their own troubles to be overlooked. But there are two things to consider:
1. As Larry David once told his agent, there but for the grace of god go you. Democrats doing a happy dance because they get to repeat ‘RNC’ and ‘lesbian bondage club Voyeur West Hollywood’ may suddenly find themselves also held up in the harsh glare of some BDSM interrogation floodlamps. Like how about this story about the Democratic National Convention taking donors out to District hot spot Josephine that’s now up on The Daily Caller’s homepage? How soon until the Republican attack machine finds a slip up in the DNC’s events planning?
2. Better the Steele you know than the devil you don’t. When I wrote almost a year ago bout Michael Steele’s assistant’s salary, the story noted that the RNC Chairman was trying to stop Republicans from pursuing stunts like passing resolutions calling on Democrats to change their party’s name to the ‘Democrat Socialists of America.’ While some liberals might relish the prospect of the RNC being run by the kind of troglodytes that came up with that stupid idea, consider the kind of people Steele defeated to win election as Chairman. South Carolina’s Katon Dawson was inspired to get involved in politics because he opposed the desegregation of his high school. And Florida’s Chip Saltsman distributed a CD to RNC voters with the song ‘Barack the Magic Negro’ on it. Our country’s political discourse is in nasty shape as it is. Imagine if someone less civil than Steele was running the RNC?
So, yeah: way to go Michael Steele. But let’s not dance too freely in his troubles. Because the people who are working overtime to force him out aren’t doing it because they want to make a cleaner RNC. They’re doing it because they want to be able to take the gloves off and craft a deeply retrograde conservative narrative that they see Steele as obstructing. And that’s not a prospect that I relish.