I know a little something about party chairmen who “misspeak,” so trust me when I say it’s no surprise that Steele isn’t going anywhere. In Steele’s case, it’s not just about what he has said, it’s about what he has done, and what he has failed to do. Ironically, the more he has become the butt of jokes, the more Michael Steele has become a metaphor for the ideological turmoil of his party on the one hand, and the more he has become the perfect fall guy for the GOP on the other.
Steele’s leadership at the Republican National Committee began after the party suffered a crushing defeat and was at a crossroads, facing a dwindling number of “base voters,” and questions about the direction and future of the party. He didn’t seem to have a real base of his own within the Republican Party, having ascended following six rounds of voting that exposed deep rifts between the party’s ideological factions. While those factions continued to bicker, congressional Republicans focused on their waterloo and practiced their “no’s.” Chairman Steele quickly focused on a lavish re-decoration of his office, and using slang phrases to declare a new day at the RNC. After an early run-in with Rush Limbaugh, Steele was reminded “who’s your daddy,” and went back to his jet travel, lackluster fundraising, and letting staffers literally spend money like drunken sailors at a strip club. The result? A divided Republican Party lost touch with its base and was taken completely off guard by the rise of the Tea Party movement. They first flexed their muscle in the Republican primary for New York State’s 23rd congressional district, and later beat incumbents and “chosen” candidates in Republican primaries across the country. In an attempt to appease this new force, the GOP now embraces an extremism that says we should end Social Security and Medicare, that President Obama was “too hard” on BP, and that the loss of 8 million jobs is comparative to an ant. Not to mention an election year conversion to “fiscal discipline” being used as an excuse to block 2.1 million Americans from the unemployment insurance they paid for.
For Democrats, Steele is the gift that just can’t help but keep on giving. In addition to his gaffes, he literally contradicts the narrative congressional Republicans are trying to portray--fiscally irresponsible, full of hot air, using fear as a weapon, no plan, and no message. Their challenge is to continue to use Steele’s gaffes and missteps to remind the American people what GOP leadership really looks like. No doubt there will be a fresh round of material when Steele shares the stage with Sharron Angle on Friday at the Nevada Republican Party’s state convention.
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For Republicans, he’s become a potent pitch for fundraising. Donors have made it clear they don’t quite trust Steele’s financial management. And no doubt once they read the fundraising presentation leaked earlier this year which refers to big donors as “calculated givers” who are “ego driven,” and small donors as reactionary, “visceral” givers motivated by fear, the door was wide open for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the Republican Governors Association. For Karl Rove and former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie, Steele has helped fill the coffers of American Crossroads, also known as the “shadow RNC”.
In the end however, Michael Steele might just give the GOP the thing they need most should their predictions of retaking the House and Senate by wide margins fail to come true--a fall guy.