There’s at least one thing that can be said about Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele: He is reliably entertaining.
Steele has had a history of gaffes during his time as RNC Chairman, often as a result of his attempts to make the GOP appealing to disaffected folks both to his right and his left. More than once, the gaffes have come from Steele’s bad habit of listening to somebody criticize the GOP, then reaching out to them by agreeing with the initial criticism before trying to discuss how we can all come together to fix the problem. Other times, he just seems to speak without thinking about what his words actually mean — and whether they match up with Republican principles.
So let’s take a look at some of Steele’s greatest hits.1. The Latest: Steele Goes Dove On Afghanistan
Steele’s most recent gaffe came last week, when he criticized the Afghanistan war — and said that it was a war chosen by President Obama and that the United States hadn’t been prosecuting it before. This, of course, contradicted the fact that the war began in 2001, during the Bush administration, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. And it’s also obviously not a good thing for a leader of the modern Republican Party to come out against war.
“Keep in mind again, federal candidates, this was a war of Obama’s choosing. This is not something the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in,” Steele said at a Republican fundraiser in Connecticut. He also said that no foreign army had won a land war in Afghanistan in 1,000 years.
Steele had to back away from this one very quickly, affirming his support for the war. However, he has now faced calls for his resignation from Bill Kristol, Erick Erickson, Liz Cheney, and Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK).
2. The Rush Limbaugh Flap
Steele’s most infamous gaffe came early in his tenure, when he got into trouble with none other than Rush Limbaugh. In March 2009, Steele appeared on CNN and was asked by host D.L. Hughley about Limbaugh’s comments hoping for President Obama to fail, with Hughley calling Limbaugh “the de facto leader of the Republican Party.” Steele then declared that Rush Limbaugh is not the leader of the Republican Party — Steele is. “Let’s put it in the context here,” said Steele. “Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer. Rush Limbaugh, his whole thing is entertainment.”
Things didn’t go well after this. First, Limbaugh ripped into Steele on his radio show. And then Steele apologized — and seemed to say that Limbaugh is a leader of the GOP: “There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership.”
3. Steele Claims Limbaugh Flap Was Intentional, ‘Strategic’
In the aftermath of the disaster with Rush Limbaugh, Steele then claimed the whole thing had been intentional. “I am a cause and effect kind of guy. So if I do something, there’s a reason for it. Even, it may look like a mistake, a gaffe. There is a rationale, there’s a logic behind it,” said Steele. When asked for an explanation, he said: “Sure, I want to see what the landscape looks like. I want to see who yells the loudest, I wanted to know who says they’re with me but really isn’t.”
4. Steele: ‘I Wrote This Book Before I Became Chairman’ (Um, Really?)
Steele turned heads when he released a book in January 2010, Right Now, purporting to lay out the Republican Party’s positions and political action plan to get back into power. This came much to the surprise of the rest of the party, who didn’t seem to know about it until publication, and some of whom objected that he was taking time away form his duties as chairman.
Steele then appeared on Laura Ingraham’s radio show, and claimed that he hadn’t divided his time at all by the writing: “I wrote this book before I became chairman. Because of the clock and the calendar, I wound up doing it now.”
The problem with this claim was that the book was clearly written in late 2009, and was all about the political events throughout the past year. Most glaringly, Steele referred to himself as being chairman of the RNC, in three separate instances.
5. Steele: Abortion Is An Individual Choice — No Wait, It’s Not!
In a GQ interview published early in March 2009, Steele seemed to say that he was personally opposed to abortion — but pro-choice as a matter of law: “Yeah. I mean, again, I think that’s an individual choice.” He quickly backed off, saying that he was really trying to explain how he was pro-life: “I am pro-life, always have been, always will be. I tried to present why I am pro-life while recognizing that my mother had a “choice” before deciding to put me up for adoption. I thank her every day for supporting life.”
6. Steele Promises GOP Relevance In ‘Urban-Suburban Hip-Hop Settings’
Steele also attempted to rebrand the GOP as a party that was cool and hip – and perhaps even dope or maybe even groovy. At one point, Steele said he wanted to apply conservative principles to “urban-suburban hip-hop settings,” saying of his upcoming image campaign: “It will come to the table with things that will surprise everyone – off the hook.” He also likened different brands of Republicanism to how people in different regions of the country wear a baseball cap: “Now the Northeast, I wear my hat backwards, you know, ’cause that’s how we roll in the Northeast.”
That said, Steele has been less than totally fluent in his pop culture. In his interview with GQ, he said that he had eclectic tastes spanning old-school rap acts like Chuck D. and Grandmaster Flash — but also classic standards such as Frank Sinatra and the “Pack Rats”
7. Steele: We’re Not Gonna Win The Election This Year
A key aspect of a party leader’s job is to pump up the base and convince them that they can and should win — and by contrast, Steele has openly said that the GOP would not win, and perhaps they aren’t ready to govern. In a January 2010 appearance on Sean Hannity’s TV show, Steele openly said that the GOP would not win the House: “Not this year,” said Steele, also adding: “The question we need to ask ourselves is, if we do that, are we ready? I don’t know.”
8. Steele: My Own Party’s Senate Candidate Should Be Cleaned Out Of The ‘Crapper’
Here is another example of Steele agreeing with someone’s biting criticism of the GOP. In August 2009, a right-wing radio host complained to Steele about the GOP establishment’s candidate for Senate in Missouri, Rep. Roy Blunt, on issues of both political ethics and personal morality. Here was Steele’s stumbling (and bumbling) reply: “Look, now don’t, don’t sit – I mean, I agree with you. When, when, — when stuff gets in the crapper, you gotta clean it out.”
9. Steele: White Republicans Are ‘Scared Of Me’
In this instance, Steele’s habit of agreeing with a criticism of the GOP combined with his own openly defiant relationship vis-a-vis his internal Republican detractors. During a radio interview with Roland Martin in November 2009, Martin said: “One of the criticisms I’ve always had is Republicans — white Republicans — have been scared of black folks.”
Steele’s response: “You’re absolutely right. I mean I’ve been in the room and they’ve been scared of me,” Steele said. “I’m like, ‘I’m on your side’ and so I can imagine going out there and talking to someone like you, you know, [say] ‘I’ll listen.’ And they’re like, ‘Well.'”
10. Steele: African-Americans ‘Really Don’t Have A Reason’ To Vote GOP
And here is just one more example (of many) of Steele agreeing with a criticism of the GOP. Speaking before an African-American audience in Chicago in April 2010, Steele was asked what reason black voters have to choose the GOP. His answer: “You really don’t have a reason to, to be honest — we haven’t done a very good job of really giving you one. True? True.”
Don’t miss this classic slideshow of Steele and the RNC interns.