In it, but not of it. TPM DC
The most frequent word that surfaced in my interviews was "distraction" - RNC members believe Steele pulls attention away from their message of the moment, but not enough to do real damage. Members said they may pursue some sort of Steele-scolding in Honolulu but would rather the issue cools off so they can focus on what will be "a very potentially hot 2010 election."
Steele defenders are circulating an email saying the chairman's book is no different from when Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour wrote a book in the 1990s while having the leadership position, but our sources balked. There's certainly no comparison given the bad publicity Steele's "Right Now: A 12-Step Program for Defeating the Obama Agenda" has brought to the party. (See Eric Kleefeld's book report here.)
But even some Democrats privately take Steele's side, saying that holding the party chairmanship when you don't hold the White House is a thankless job.
David Norcross, a longtime RNC member and attorney in Washington, said Steele's job is not in danger.
"I would like to get past this controversy and one way is to do nothing and let it simmer down," Norcross told TPMDC in an interview.
He also suggested Steele could donate proceeds from his book to the RNC or end his book tour on his own.
Norcross disputed a report in today's Washington Times suggesting he has drafted a resolution to ask Steele to end the tour, saying he has "no plans" to do so. He told me he'd rather the issue just go away, but admitted he's willing to consider such a resolution as "a way to get past the controversy."
Another example several RNC members cited was Steele's reaction about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid over the weekend when asked about Reid's racially insensitive remarks.
They said Steele was on message about wanting to defeat Reid but winced when he couldn't resist talking about himself:
"From my perspective whether he steps down today, or I retire him in November, either way he will not be the leader in 2011," Steele said.
That set off alarms for some members already thinking that Steele has been trying to grab headlines for himself.
"When he gets the message and is focused and disciplined it's okay, but mostly it's about I, I, I," said an RNC member who also wanted to be identified as a "friend" to Steele.
The member told TPMDC Steele has been saved by "a good 2009" and a "really good" 2010 on the horizon.
Fergis Cullen, the former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party who is no longer an RNC member but remains in close contact with members, said there will be no Steele recall or even a vote of no confidence because the party infighting could take away from recent gains on Democrats.
From a practical standpoint it would take a two-thirds vote of the 168 RNC members to take any action.
"The criticism that he's getting is mostly unfair," said Cullen, who supported Steele's rival Mike Duncan for the chairmanship battle last year.