Sometimes in this job, one has to laugh instead of crying. After Barack Obama went on national television and gave himself a “good, solid B-plus” and endured national ridicule for it, other public figures may have taken that as a warning. Not only did Michael Steele fail to learn that lesson, he also lashed out at Republicans for giving him significantly lower grades, despite being accountable to them:
ABC News’ Aaron Katersky and Rick Klein report: RNC Chairman Michael Steele is lashing out his critics, with a series of blunt messages for prominent Republicans who have blasted him over his leadership for the Republican Party.
“I tell them to get a life. That’s old Washington, that’s old ways, and I don’t represent that, and that kills them,” Steele told ABC News Radio in an interview today.
“I’m telling them and I’m looking them in the eye and say I’ve had enough of it. If you don’t want me in the job, fire me. But until then, shut up. Get with the program or get out of the way.”
Shut up? Maybe Steele hasn’t noticed, but America is a place where we hold our leaders accountable, or at least attempt to do so. While the GOP should be focusing on holding Democrats accountable, Steele argues that we treat him like a dictator, given the keys to Rome for a year in order to rout the barbarians. At the very least, Steele should familiarize himself with Harry Truman’s famous maxim: if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
So public has his feud with Republican congressional staffers become that, believe it or not, I had a choice of three different soundbites from the past 24 hours to lead with here. There’s the God one, his comment to Dennis Miller this morning that he didn’t so much seek the RNC chairmanship as he had it thrust upon him by a historical moment, and his angry invite to GOP backbiters yesterday on KTRS radio to either shut up and get in the game or force him out already. Which, given the reports of a mysterious huddle this morning at RNC headquarters and word that Steele rival Katon Dawson will be a surprise attendee at the winter meeting in Hawaii, may well be the plan. If he is pushed out, I assume the pretext will be that no one knew he was planning a side project as time-sucking and self-promotional as a book launch; I don’t believe that for a minute, but I guess it beats dredging up his many, many gaffes.
I sympathize with the guy to some extent. I think he means well, especially in trying to coopt tea partiers (listen to the KTRS clip and you’ll hear him describe himself as one of them), and the pile-on over his dopey rhetorical mistakes is causing him to lose the benefit of the doubt he’d otherwise get for comments like the one below, which would pass unremarked upon by the right had it come from the mouth of a more ostentatiously religious pol. But he simply must get out of the news. To be sucking up media oxygen in a week when Byron Dorgan and Chris Dodd quit and the White House was in full mea culpa mode over the dropped ball on Abdulmutallab is idiotic, and to have it involve infighting with other Republicans is inexcusable.
Michael Steele has gotten a lot of bad press lately over his pointed comments. Some of them — such as when he said the GOP will likely not take over the House (and may not be ready to lead) would have been spot on — were he a pundit or an analyst. He is not.
Interestingly, I actually tend to agree with his analysis. At this point, my bet is Republicans will pick up dozens of seats, but not quite enough to take over the House. And that might just be a good thing because I’m not so sure it would be good for Republicans to get back power this quickly (maybe they need some more time to think about what they did)…
At the same time, winning just a few seats (in fact, winning just one senate seat) would dramatically curtail Obama’s agenda. In short, Republicans may be better off by picking up a bunch of seats, but still staying in the minority.
… Of course, as controversial as that may be, it’s okay for me to say this because I’M NOT THE RNC CHAIRMAN.
And unlike me, Michael Steele is the RNC Chairman. And in that capacity, he’s not free to just opine. That’s my job. As such, my advice to Steele: He needs to learn his cliches (he’s going to have to study them, he’s going to have to know them).
And for crying out loud, once you say something controversial, don’t make it worse by attacking everyone else. Steele should not be defending himself; a surrogate should do that for him. Why can’t Ed Gillespie — or someone — go on TV in his place and defend him???
At the end of the day, though, this is an example of where being appropriate is more important than being right.
Sam Stein at the Huffington Post:
“Does he not get it?” asked Larry Farnsworth, one-time press secretary to former House Speaker Dennis Hastert. “To write a book like that and not consult with the rest of the party leaders is maddening. It’s the most selfish thing I’ve seen a politician do since a certain senator tapped his foot under the bathroom stall. Michael Steele is clearly using the RNC platform to promote Michael Steele.”
“Can you imagine what Karl Rove and the White House would have done to Ken Mehlman or Ed Gillespie if they would have pulled that?” Farnsworth added.
The reactions to Steele’s antics don’t get much worse than that — at least in public. In private, the griping has been intense. Other Republicans have expressed fury with the RNC chair for stepping all over news that Sens. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) were retiring by telling Sean Hannity that the GOP was not just unlikely to win back the House in 2010, but wasn’t even ready to govern.
“I’m sorry if Washington hates my pragmatism,” Steele responded defiantly on the Dennis Miller show Friday.
The overwhelming concern is that Steele has become a rogue agent — convinced that his playbook for a Republican revival is the right one, while simultaneously refusing to show anyone else the plays.
“Fortunately, the future of conservatism is not in the hands of Michael Steele,” said Craig Shirley, a longtime conservative consultant. “He only controls the future of the Republican consultants who depend upon him for contracts.”
Eric Kleefeld at Talking Points Memo:
Appearing today on Laura Ingraham’s radio show, RNC chairman Michael Steele said that he wrote his book Right Now before he became chairman. The problem is, the book itself doesn’t read like it could have possibly been written before January 2009 — it was clearly written in late 2009, either in November or December, and is based entirely on current events up to that point.
“I wrote this book before I became chairman. Because of the clock and the calendar, I wound up doing it now,” said Steele. It’s not clear whether this might have been intended to somehow deflect criticism from other Republicans over the book — GOPers have said they didn’t know Steele was writing a book until it was released — or whether he might have been speaking figuratively that he decided to write the book earlier. It’s hard to know exactly what he meant.
When we here at TPM heard that Michael Steele had a new book, we immediately bought a copy and I proceeded to read the whole thing cover to cover. Unless Steele is remarkably clairvoyant, it seems as though it could not have been written before he became chairman — it is overwhelmingly a commentary on the political situation in America under President Barack Obama, as of late 2009.
The book is full of references to current events in 2009: The stimulus bill, the health care debate, foreign policy, ACORN, the party switch of Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the Tea Parties and the 9/12 March on Washington, etc.
Hey Maryland, get excited: America may be deporting Michael Steele back to you!