By George E. Hardin | Published 12/9/2010
When Steele was elected to the GOP position on Jan. 30, 2009, in the sixth round, he was promoted as evidence the party was committed to inclusiveness and was making an effort to attract more minority votes in the aftermath of President Barack Obama’s victory. Steele soon found opposition was strong and one month after taking his position he showed his frustration by saying, “I’m trying to move a Republican Party that’s become mired in its own muck.”
A number of GOP leaders have said Steele should be ousted and opponents are lining up. Most recently, on Monday, Dec. 6, Reince Priebus (ryns PREE-buhs), the top legal counsel for the RNC, resigned to seek the party’s chairmanship. Priebus, chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party, advocated the election of Steele in 2009 and served as Steele’s right-hand man. He was encouraged to run by some close to Steele, whether Steele seeks the position again or not.
Steele learned early on that the brash style he used as lieutenant governor of Maryland met strong resistance once he took over the RNC. Steele once said, in reference to Rush Limbaugh’s radio show: “The whole thing is entertainment. Yes, it’s incendiary. Yes, it’s ugly” – comments that offended many GOP conservatives, who urged Steele to apologize, which he did. Limbaugh had questioned whether Steele was qualified to lead the GOP.
Steele’s election to a two-year term was perceived by some in his party, such as Raynard Jackson, an African-American GOP consultant, as an effort to “get a black person out there and let him attack the first black president.” And Ada Fisher, who is among the few blacks on the RNC, suggested early on that he resign because “he makes us frankly appear to many blacks as quite foolish.”
Leading up to the November elections Steele complained that some in the party did not want to give him credit for the party’s successes and said on National Public Radio, “They don’t want me in this job.” After election day, complaints against Steele intensified.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a former RNC chairman, is backing Priebus and has said he believes Steele should be replaced because Barbour doesn’t believe the GOP could defeat Obama with Steele as leader. (Under Mississippi term limits, Barbour, who is chairman of the Republican Governors Association, cannot succeed himself and is being promoted as a GOP presidential hopeful for 2012.) Barbour’s nephew, Henry Barbour, one of the 168 voting members of the RNC, is trying to form an anti-Steele voting bloc when the RNC meets in January.
And Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell told the Richmond Times-Dispatch earlier: “Michael Steele is a good person; he helped me tremendously last year when I ran for governor. But I can tell you, many of us have great concern about the fiscal state of the RNC, about the lack of effort and effectiveness at the grass-roots ground game during the last election.”
The prevailing view is the party wants a chairman who will remain in the background and allow Rep. John Boehner, new Speaker of the House, to become the major spokesman for the Republican Party.
As of last Monday, Steele had yet to disclose whether he would seek reelection. But many in the GOP feel he has outlived his usefulness and want him out. Whatever Steele’s decision, the forces allied against him indicate if he tries to stay he is in for a long, drawn-out battle.