Chip Saltsman, who destroyed his 2008 campaign to become chairman of the Republican National Committee by distributing a racially insensitive song parody, is returning to the national political scene as Rep.-elect Chuck Fleischmann’s chief of staff.
The former Tennessee GOP chairman said Tuesday that he shouldn’t be judged by his one political mistake and that he hopes it doesn’t affect his boss, a Tennessee Republican.
“You Google my name and that comes up, and it makes me sad because it’s certainly not who I am,” Saltsman told Roll Call. “It doesn’t define me at all.”
Satirist Paul Shanklin wrote the song “Barack the Magic Negro,” which is set to the tune of “Puff the Magic Dragon,” for “The Rush Limbaugh Show.” Saltsman said an aide sent a Christmas CD that included the track to fellow RNC members in 2008, while he was running for the RNC chairman’s post. In the aftermath of the CD’s release, he was unable to assemble the support needed to get on the RNC ballot.
“I never saw the CD,” he said, though he took responsibility because it came from his office. “I was completely embarrassed about it when it was sent out.”
Saltsman has worked for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, as well as for Sen. Bill Frist’s political action committee during the Tennessee Republican’s tenure as Majority Leader. He also managed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s campaign for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.
Saltsman has been an adviser on Fleischmann’s campaign and has been helping him assemble his staff. The two worked together on the 1994 Republican sweep of Tennessee’s two Senatorial seats and governorship.
Saltsman said he was hesitant to take the chief of staff job, but not because of the scandal — he wasn’t sure whether he would enjoy working in the House. Although he’s still unsure, he decided Tuesday to come on board, he said.
He plans to bring his perspective and knowledge of Beltway politics to Fleischmann’s office. And maybe he has learned a thing or two from his scandal, he said.
“One of the things I learned is to make sure to check everything that goes out in your name,” he said. “That’s a great thing to have learned if you’re working for a Congressman.”
Roll Call has launched a new feature, Hill Navigator, to advise congressional staffers and would-be staffers on how to manage workplace issues on Capitol Hill. Please send us your questions anything from office etiquette, to handling awkward moments, to what happens when the work life gets too personal. Submissions will be treated anonymously.