Even Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele’s harshest critics agree that pushing him out before his tenure is up would be a PR nightmare — saying that even though he may deserve the boot, they fear he’d get so much media attention they’d never hear the last of him.
“If he were thrown overboard you can guarantee he’d be out there slamming a lot of people and saying a lot of things. It’s best to let this one simmer down,” said a top Republican strategist who works with the RNC.
Steele already is a larger-than-life television force, appearing on multiple television shows and sometimes sticking his foot in his mouth. GOP sources told me that many believe it’s better to ride the wave, no matter how wild, until January rather than get a big(ger) mess on their hands.Several former RNC staffers told us that one problem is Steele is difficult to control. He’s already gone through several top aides, getting more than one new communications director since taking the helm in early 2009. One former RNC aide told me that Steele’s decision to elevate his longtime operative Mike Leavitt to chief of staff was wise for the party to get beyond the Steele-in-trouble storyline. “The problem has been a lack of people in the building who Steele will take advice from,” the source said.
Another source who asked to be identified as a GOP consultant said he was baffled Steele is scheduled to speak at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference on Saturday afternoon. “He should cancel. What message can he possibly offer? If I were still working at the RNC I’d say he should lay low and field GOP calls,” the consultant said.
From a technical standpoint, a two-thirds majority of the 168 RNC members would need to vote Steele out to replace him. The strategist laughed off the possibility that many Republicans would be convinced they made the wrong decision backing Steele in the first place.
An RNC member told me in an interview he thinks Steele’s job is safe until his term expires in January. The next meeting with a large group of members isn’t until early May, giving Steele plenty of time to calm members down and move past the problems that have plagued him in recent weeks — from a staff shakeup to questionable spending at a bondage-themed nightclub.
The member said that while some RNCers were furious about Steele’s book tour last fall, this dust-up over spending has generated more press attention than actual member anger.
“I am not getting outraged calls. I don’t think we have ever thrown out a chairman and I rather doubt this is going to be the time. We’ve got too much going for us for that to be the case, since we have such a good chance at beating the Democrats this year,” he told me.
(But, as I reported earlier, other GOP groups are benefiting financially from Steele’s woes.)
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) said on Fox Business Network yesterday he is not enthusiastic about Steele’s leadership. “I think he needs to get back to the RNC, go back to the headquarters, and manage this place,” Santorum said.
Michael Zak, who consulted with the RNC on its new Web site last fall, told TPM that Republicans are questioning if Steele is the best possible chairman.
Zak wrote an email to his distribution list this week titled, “Has the Republican National Committee Ever Fired its Chairman? You betcha!” but said he isn’t advocating for Steele to be replaced. He wrote that in 1864 the GOP ousted Henry Raymond for his role in nominating Andrew Johnson, a Democrat, during the Civil War.
Katon Dawson is telling reporters he’s been getting calls from Republicans worried about Steele and said he might be willing to run again for chairman. Steele narrowly defeated Dawson for the post after multiple ballots. Dawson said there is “angst out there,” according to McClatchy, but said he doubts Steele will lose his job as long as he avoids any more scandal.
“I don’t think there’s a lot of room for error coming out of Washington from now until November,” Dawson said, adding that he’s sure Steele’s candidacy would be contested if he tries to run for the chairmanship again in January.
Additional reporting by Zachary Roth