If Republican National Committee leader Michael Steele’s announcement that he intends to seek re-election to the leadership office that he has disgraced for the past two years isn’t enough to change your “ho-ho-ho” to NO-NO-NO, then his taking credit for the conservative landslide of the midterm elections will.
Acknowledging his occasional “stumble” as the head of the Republican National Committee, Steele issued a grammatically poor, typo laden letter to members of the RNC announcing his bid for re-election. Interestingly, in his remarks, he claimed that he had no hidden agenda. However, this statement was followed by the admission that he had delayed making the announcement for over a month in order to lure detractors into tossing their own hats in the ring. If Steele had hoped to win support from RNC members who questioned his ability to unify the RNC and get the fundraising machine back on track, this technique failed.
Members of the RNC are not the only ones eager to see Michael Steele step aside, Republican and conservative voters have expressed their displeasure for Steele’s leadership by closing their wallets to the organization. Major contributors, corporate donors, and private individuals have donated their political dollar directly to their chosen candidates, by-passing the RNC altogether. This has resulted in a historic short-fall in RNC finances and has seriously put the future of the convention in jeopardy.
Two years ago, it was a much different story. Michael Steele fought off six challengers, including popular incumbent Mike Duncan to take the helm of the RNC. With independent voters embracing Obama’s “hope and change” message, a Republican win in 2008 was a long shot. But for the RNC, John McCain’s failure to clinch the Presidency wasn’t simply a loss, it was a branding. Liberals and the media successfully branded Republicans as the party of the “rich, old, white, man.” The RNC membership, comprised largely of rich, old, white, men didn’t endear themselves to women voters either as rumors of their attempts to reign in Sarah Palin, who quickly over shadowed McCain, circulated.
While other contenders for RNC leadership offered much of the same, Steele campaigned on a platform of rebranding the RNC as modern and focused, saying “I think I may have some keys to open the door, some juice to turn on the lights.” He also made it clear that selecting a black man would help to bring minorities back to the Republican fold and rid Republicans of the racist brand. However, instead of using his position to unify members and focus Republicans on reorganizing their base, strategizing for mid-terms, and replenishing the deleted RNC coffers, critics charge that Steele immediately began promoting himself as a $20,000 an event corporate speaker and pushing his book, “Right Now.”
The RNC has three basic responsibilities; Republican platform development, fundraising, and operating the national convention. As the head of the RNC, Michael Steele is supposed to oversee the fulfillment of these responsibilities. However, critics both inside and outside of the RNC have labeled Steele’s tenure as RNC leader, a complete failure. So angered at Steele’s continued financial support of “liberal” Republicans like Dee Dee Scozzafavas and his intense personal promotion, after less than a year into his term, RNC members proposed a resolutions to rein him in personally and create a litmus test for politicians to meet in order to receive support. The mandates instructed Steele to stop the self promotion, stop using the RNC as his personal bank, and switch his attention to fundraising. Non-binding, these mandates served only to further divide the RNC.
Perhaps nowhere is this disconnect between Steele and both members of the RNC and the conservative electorate, more evident than in the fund raising arena. Just one year into Steele’s term, the RNC had raised only $8.7 million dollars. Under his predecessor, Mike Duncan, the RNC had collected nearly $23 million in the same period. In a December, 5th Washington Post article, Ralph Hallow reported that the RNC would start the 2012 election cycle in debt by nearly $25 million dollars. Money raised to fund mid-term elections was even more telling. In 2002, the RNC raised $284 million. In 2006, they raised $243 million. But under Steele, the RNC raised only $179 million.
Shockingly, despite his inability to raise necessary funds, leading many Republican candidates in the mid-term elections to cry that they had been financially abandoned by the RNC, Steele points to the historic conservative sweep of 63 House seats as “proof” that he deserves to retain the leadership of the RNC. Yes you read that right. Michael Steele claims responsibility for the success of conservative candidates during the mid-term election. Political pundits on both sides of the isle note that the Republican sweep would have been much larger had it not been for Steele’s financial mismanagement, poor campaigning efforts, and divisive, self-serving publicity stunts.
Steele can easily be compared to Barack Obama in this matter. From day one, Steele has courted the media and spent much of his time on television talk shows and doing radio interviews essentially playing up the historical significance of being the first black man to hold the seat. And like Obama, Steele’s media outings have resulted in unscripted public relations disasters as one statement after another need to be retracted, clarified, or distanced. Steele has played the race card time and time again, often against his own party, lambasted the Tea Party movement, attacked Rush Limbaugh, and of course announcing that he didn’t feel that Republican were ready to lead prior to the midterm elections. Steele’s attacks against Tea Party candidates and icons make his claims that he is responsible for the conservative sweep all the more contemptible.
Steele’s announcement that he intends on keeping the leadership role is problematic for RNC members. The RNC chairman’s position is largely that of behind the scenes money maker. But Michael Steele has done for the RNC what John Gotti did for the Cosa Nostra. By rejecting the leadership’s established purpose and abandoning traditional revenue streams and instead using the position for personal promotion and star power, Steele has sent the organization into chaos and exposed it’s vulnerabilities to opponents and the general public. Steele’s “Dapper Don” fantasy has all but destroyed the RNC.