On one level, it's difficult to figure out why the GOP has not yet canned its national party chairman, Michael Steele.
After consistently embarrassing the party, early January featured the release of a new book by Steele while a Washington Post blogger noted
"Right Now: A 12-Step Program for Defeating the Obama Agenda," surprised Republican congressional leaders, some of whom first learned of the book by watching Steele's television appearances this week, three top GOP congressional aides said Friday. The staffers would only describe their bosses' communications with the Republican National Committee chairman on condition of anonymity.
"The book came out and everybody went, 'Whoa, what happened?'" one aide said, adding that his employer, a senior House Republican, learned of the book by watching cable news.
"No one in the House or Senate leadership knew he had a book contract."
"He's freelancing," said another top congressional aide.
Asked in a radio interview whether, according to the WaPo (lingo for the pretentious), he was "a detriment to GOP fund-raising," Steele threw down the gauntlet (video below):
I am in this chair. If they want it, take it from me. Until then, shut up, step back and get in the game and help us win -- and stop the back-biting and the name-calling and the finger-pointing....
I hope you play this tape over and over again because these folks are the problem, not the solution. Get with the program. I'm the chairman. Deal with it.
Generally, telling one's employer- in this case the Republican National Committee- to "shut up (and) deal with it" is not a sound prescription for job security.
Not so, however, with Steele. Certainly, there is wide dissatisfaction with Steele, under whose leadership the RNC has spent more than it has raised. The Daily Caller recently reported that in February the National Committee spent $17,514 on private aircraft and $12,691 on limousines; a $9,099 stop at the Beverly Hills Hotel with $6,596 spent at the nearby Four Seasons; and $1,946,25 "at Voyeur West Hollywood, a bondage-themed nightclub featuring topless women dancers imitating lesbian sex." Other expenses have included "bills from a long list of chic and costly hotels such as the Venetian and the M Resort in Las Vegas, and the W (for a total of $19,443) in Washington. A midwinter trip to Hawaii cost the RNC $43,828, not including airfare." Fiscal conservatism, indeed.
Nonetheless, the chairman remains, despite- or perhaps because of- his challenge to the party.
A new controversy arose with this exchange (video way below) on ABC's Good Morning America on April 5:
STEPHANOPOULOS: We’ve got questions on my blog for you, this morning. One came in from Myron, he asked, do you feel as an African-American, you have a slimmer margin for error as another chairman would?
STEELE: The answer is yes.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Why is that?
STEELE: It just is. Barack Obama has a slimmer margin. A lot of folks do. It’s a different role for, you know, for me to play and others to play. That’s just the reality of it. But you take that as part of the nature of it. It’s not — it’s more because you’re not someone that they mow. I’m not a Washington insider, even though I grew up here in D.C. my view on politics is much more grassroots oriented. It’s not old boy network oriented. And so, you know, I tend to come at did stronger, streetwise, if you will.
Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic posits five reasons he believes the Republican National Committee will not fire Michael Steele:
Reason one: It's hard. Being the party of loyalty and hierarchy, the Republicans have made it virtually impossible for members to throw out a chair; it'd take a vote of two thirds of the membership.
Reason two: Steele is no less popular, publicly, than other Republicans -- it's not like he's a magnet for negative energy. OK, well maybe he is. But not MORE of a magnet than other Washington-based party leaders.
Reason three: Fundraising tactics aside, he's proven to be a fairly competent fundraiser. And there'll be plenty of money for Republicans outside the RNC.
Reason four: The press would focus obsessively on the impeachment process, and Republicans could look bad...uh, worse, than they do now.
Reason five: He's black. Republicans don't want to be stuck with the symbolism of having rejected their first elected black chairman because of financial issues or problems controlling his public image.
With approval of two-thirds of the 168 members of the RNC required to discharge a chairman, Steele will not be fired short of an indictment. And then it would be a toss-up. This would not be because of reasons 2, 3, and 4. It is because of reason five. If the GOP found it difficult to fire its first black chairman prior to his recent outburst, it would be far more uncomfortable now that he has drawn attention to race (all hail the "streetwise"!).
Talking Point Memo's Josh Marshall commented that the GOP response to Democratic nomination of Barack Obama was to
turn around and hire someone to lead their party pretty much for the sole reason that he was black. As is so often the case, the critics of racial progress, because they don't comprehend it, resort to a parody of it.
Steele was hired because he was black. And the other truth is that now he can't be fired, in significant measure, because he's black. Because canning Steele now would only drive home the reality that Republicans were trying to paper over, fairly clumsily, when they hired him in the first place.
Perhaps Marshall had read The New Republic's Jonathan Chait, who in mid-January explained (and now has been quoted twice on this site)
Republicans, though, have treated Obama’s race as a trump card. Thus the immediate Republican response to Obama has been to find their own black guy.
perfectly embodies modern Republican racialism. Democratic racialism represents a perversion of the civil rights ideal--an opposition to racism taken to excesses of hypersensitivity, occasionally devolving into a mere political tactic. Republican racialism is an attempt to mimic Democratic racialism without first having any grasp of the original sentiment underlying it--a parodic replica of the original thing, like a person who decides to convert to Judaism by studying Madonna.
Republican racialism is not an expression of racism but, rather, a failure to understand racism.
And the GOP, at least for now, is stuck with him. This won't be forever because at some point party leaders will make Mr. Steele an offer sufficiently attractive that he will make a graceful exit, a far superior outcome than having the chairman resign amid the charges of racial insensitivity he would trumpet.