Michael Steele And Lanny Davis Answer To Criticism Of New Firm: "We Confuse People"

Michael Steele and Lanny Davis have teamed up as the political odd couple.

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Lanny Davis and Michael Steele

Since the Daily Beast's Howard Kurtz reported this morning that Lanny Davis and Michael Steele were joining together to launch a new firm, the Twitterverse and blogosphere have been rife with criticism for the partnership between the former Clinton strategist and former Republican National Committee Chairman.

In New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait wrote, cuttingly:

"The firm is a nice way for Steele and Davis to reframe criticism of themselves... In reality, people like Steele and Davis get attacked not because they break from party dogma but because they are, respectively, a buffoon and a sleaze-merchant."

But little has been said about what the new firm, Purple Nation Solutions, is actually going to do.

[See: Latest political cartoons]

Whispers talked to Davis and Steele to find out, and get their response to the criticisms.

"If I paid attention to half of the stuff said about me, I'd be in a straightjacket," Steele told me Monday, in Davis' office across from the Treasury. "You know how I deal with it? I look in the mirror every morning and I say, I like this guy."

Eleanor McManus, the firm's communications head, cut in: "At least [people] are talking."

"I think we confuse people," Davis argued. "Just like Clinton's 'Third Way' did. Because we're out of the box."

Both said they thought the criticism only made the whole point of Purple Nation Solutions stronger, which is that they think politics has become too hyper-partisan.

Steele said he thinks he can help the firm bridge that red and blue divide because he was in "real partisan positions" at the RNC, and "lobbed some grenades."

(His tenure at the RNC was a rocky one: When he came under fire in April 2010 for the committee's extreme spending, he acknowledged "I've made mistakes." Steele was not reelected.)

"Are you saying," Davis asked Steele, "That who better to do this than a redeemed sinner?"

Steele laughed.

The two told me they had no clients yet, but were already in talks with a multinational company "in crisis;" a foreign country seeking to attract tourist and commercial investment; and a company having difficulty with regulatory agencies.

Davis noted that the foreign country client is a "great democracy."

Davis took enormous heat in 2010 for representing Laurent Gbabgo, a human rights-abusing leader of the Ivory coast. Davis later dropped the account.

"I had a bad experience trying to convert a non-democracy to a democracy for the State Department," he told me. "And I learned that no good deed goes unpunished."

The good deeds Davis and Steele hope for at Purple Nation Solutions are of a less controversial manner, pursuing more innocuous clients like tech companies in California.

They aren't, of course, the first Republican and Democrat to team up on a crisis magagement firm.

Consultants Alex Castellanos (R) and Steve McMahon (D) have had a similar firm for years, incidentally called: "Purple Strategies."

Davis and Steele say their unique selling points are that they can "get into rooms with people with privileged info," and that they will be able to "create consensus" for their clients.

Earlier Monday, Alex Burns at Politico tweeted: "Judging by Twitter, Michael Steele and Lanny Davis have, in fact, succeeded at creating consensus in Washington" — meaning that the two were not well-liked.

But the two seem to genuinely like one another. Despite disagreement on taxes, gay marriage, presidential candidates, and pretty much every other political issue, their dialogue Monday went something like that of the Odd Couple — if the Odd Couple had perfect chemistry.

"We instantly clicked," Steele told me of their first meeting in a green room a decade ago. "Now, I finish his sentences."

Davis: "I think he fell in love with me when I told him: 'You're the first Republican I almost voted for.'" (Davis said he almost voted for Steele after seeing his Senate campaign ad that joked: "I love puppies.")

Steele responded: "I spent the next 10 years trying to get him to vote for me."

And now Davis has.

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  • Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at eflock@usnews.com or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.