In Quest To Reform Steele’s Image, RNC Hires Republican Attack Dog Castellanos

Talking Points Memo
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Pretend for a moment that you’re Michael Steele. You won the RNC chairmanship earlier this year, and have been at the helm of the GOP for months as it has waged a fierce internal battle over the future of the party. You also have a reputation for being a bit of a buffoon. So the off-year elections roll around, and things go OK. Dede gets Scozzafav’d, but for the most part the media trains its eyes on gubernatorial pick ups in New Jersey and Virginia and declares victory for the GOP.

You might think that’s a pretty good outcome. But Steele apparently wanted more credit for the Christie and McDonnell wins. So what’s a political chief to do?

According to Politico the answer he arrived at was ‘fire my communications director and fill the void with CNN’s celebrity GOP talking head Alex Castellanos.”In a way, that’s a reasonable idea. Castellanos has no shortage of experience flacking for Republicans, and will surely hit the ground running. But Castellanos’ real talent isn’t for improving the reputations of laughing stocks like Steele, but rather for sliming their political enemies in campaigns that often go too far. If anything, his new role portends a meaner nastier GOP.

It’s been almost 20 years, but Castellanos is perhaps best known for an ad he wrote and produced for Jesse Helms during the 1990 North Carolina Senate race. The spot was called “Hands.”

“You needed that job, and you were the best qualified, but they had to give it to a minority, because of a racial quota.”

In the years since, Castellanos has worked for leading Republicans, and taken his antics almost as far. In 1996, he produced a similar ad for Phil Gramm’s re-election campaign. In 2000, his firm produced the infamous RATS ad, attacking Democrat Al Gore. Watch for it:

Oh, right, and he implied that Hillary Clinton was a “white bitch.”

More recently, Castellanos has been engaged in the Republican fight against Obama’s agenda, producing segments for the Chamber of Commerce attacking health care reform and climate change legislation, and has done similar work for America’s Health Insurance Plans.

And, just to square the circle, as the author of a much-discussed anti-reform memo he’s already well accustomed to doing the RNC’s bidding in its current brawl with Congressional Democrats and the White House.

Which is all a long way of saying Castellanos isn’t a surprising choice for the RNC. But if the idea is to turn Michael Steele into the champion of the modern conservative movement, they may have picked a guy with the wrong skill set.

Late update: CNN will keep Castellanos on board. Democrats are not amused.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at brian@talkingpointsmemo.com
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