Saving Steele: RNC Chairman Squeaks Through Another Scandal


As he’s often done during his tenure as chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele last week put the phone to his ear to save his embattled rear. On Friday, Steele arranged a raft of conference calls to explain his remarks that Afghanistan was a war of President Obama’s “choosing,” and tried to offer members now very used to his gaffe-prone tendencies context for the remarks.

“When the video broke Mike sent out a gargantuan amount of emails to members, to senators. He emailed by the pound,” an RNC member told TPM in an interview. Steele even called conservative columnist Bill Kristol who began the drumbeat that the chairman should go in hopes of setting him straight. (Steele’s friends complained that Kristol has not introduced himself to the chairman.)Steele’s message boiled down to two key points: it was a clumsy comment; and let’s keep our eye on the prize. Steele allies backed that up with their own rounds of calls and emails to remind skeptical members the midterm elections are 120 days away and they must stay focused if they want to win back power in Washington.

“Of the two or three crises we’ve been through, this one has the least amount of steam to it,” another RNC member said this afternoon. “That L.A. nightclub thing seemed to have more oomph on it. We told him that it ‘was not your finest hour but we are only 120 days out.'”

It seemed to work: the intense lobbying effort apparently saved Steele’s job — again. By the end of today, the deadline for filing an RNC resolution calling for Steele to step down will have passed without anyone going down that road. The math makes it pretty clear Steele isn’t going anywhere unless he quits — and he won’t be quitting — so the Republicans lambasting him are doing little more than rendering him irrelevant. One member told the Associated Press that members are “working around him.”

Party leaders on Capitol Hill largely avoided asking for Steele’s resignation, taking a wait-and-see approach in hopes the whole mess would blow over during the holiday week when voters are generally more interested in barbecues than ballot boxes.

Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) dodged a question about Steele today in an Imus interview. Steele’s future at the national party is “not for me to decide,” Cantor said, adding that since the RNC elects their chairman, “[W]e’ll have to see.”

“Of course committee members aren’t too excited about it, most Republicans aren’t too excited about it, but it’s going to be okay,” an RNC member said. “He enjoys the broad support of the committee. We’ve got three things that concern us: big, fat, real, live elections in 120 days; raising more money than Dems; and winning.”

That RNC member, who was key to the effort that kept Steele in office this spring after a staffer was reimbursed for expenses at a bondage-themed Los Angeles nightclub, said if the RNC was suffering financially or losing elections “we’d have a much different conversation. But you can make mistakes when you’re winning.”

Not everyone has such a rosy take, and Steele’s enemies are keeping the story alive.

The Washington Times today reported that RNC officials are cutting $12.2 million from their budget for the election, money that would come out of a pot slated to help state parties and get-out-the-vote efforts.

An RNC member disputed those figures, saying the budget being slashed was “aspirational” and not set in stone. As an example, the member said that Steele fully funded the Illinois state party’s victory program “for the first time ever.”