Leaders Fear Steele Wants Second Term at the RNC

Posted September 14, 2010 at 6:36pm

Republican lawmakers said Tuesday that they fear Michael Steele is gearing up to run for a second term as chairman of the Republican National Committee despite their wishes that he simply wrap up his troubled tenure as quickly and quietly as possible.

Although Steele has not formally announced his re-election bid, Republicans increasingly believe he will try to retain control of the RNC, a perception fueled by his recent trips to Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands to meet with local GOP leaders.

Steele is also launching a multistate “Fire Pelosi” bus tour that starts today and has generally been unwilling to simply fade into the background.

Frustrated by his penchant for drawing unflattering media attention to the GOP at key moments since he took over the RNC last year, Republican lawmakers appear unified in their message to Steele: Please, don’t run.

No Members would speak on the record about Steele’s re-election prospects, but privately, several offered their discouragement.

When asked whether he would oppose a second Steele term, a senior Republican Senator said yes, adding that the GOP needs to begin the process of righting the RNC ship after the election.

“The RNC has historically been the powerhouse” behind GOP fundraising, the Senator said, explaining that under Steele’s watch, “it’s been MIA and we’ve had to do it on our own. … We need to restore it to its former role of helping candidates.”

A second veteran GOP lawmaker said the party has no appetite for a second act to Steele’s chairmanship, which has been marred by repeated scandals and gaffes.

“I haven’t met anyone who thinks that’s a good idea,” said the Member, who lamented the failures of the first black chairman in the RNC’s history. “Mike had a real chance to transform the party, and it’s been one mistake after another. It’s a shame.”

Steele’s time at the RNC has not been the watershed that some had hoped. The former Maryland lieutenant governor has engaged in a war of words with talk radio icon Rush Limbaugh, threatened to oppose moderate Republican incumbents in their primary contests, claimed President Barack Obama started the Afghan war and launched a book tour for a book that no one knew he was writing.

The RNC also drew nationwide headlines when staff spent donor money at a lesbian-themed bondage club.

At the same time, the RNC has seen its fundraising dominance slip, and donors have increasingly turned to the House and Senate committees, as well as the Republican Governors Association, as outlets for their donations.

“He’s the single biggest impediment to major electoral gains. … We don’t have the money” to challenge every vulnerable Democrat around the country, a senior Republican operative said. “What was the cornerstone of our Republican electoral machine is gone. It doesn’t exist.”

RNC spokesman Doug Heye declined to comment on whether Steele will run for re-election next year. “The only thing this committee is focused on is victory on
Nov. 2,” he said.

But Heye dismissed Republican complaints about Steele’s time at the RNC, arguing that the committee has done yeoman’s work in rebuilding itself since the 2008 elections.

Heye said that despite some of the RNC’s stumbles, the committee is well-positioned to help Republican candidates this year. He ticked off a number of accomplishments, including setting up “victory centers” to coordinate get-out-the-vote efforts, collecting the names of “volunteer voters” who have initiated contact with the party and outraising the Democratic National Committee in nine separate months.

“Keep in mind, a year ago, Time magazine was saying we were an endangered species,” Heye said. “Our political team has built a strong network of more than 300 victory centers that have made 12 million-plus volunteer voter contacts in key districts and states throughout the country.”

Heye also noted that Steele’s “Fire Pelosi” bus tour is designed to provide assistance to candidates across the country in the days leading up to November’s elections and that NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) will participate in the launch of the tour.

But one California-based GOP campaign consultant said Steele’s upcoming bus trip to the region is badly timed and unwelcome.

“Steele is not a good messenger,” the operative aid. “He’s spending money on his bus tour, which has everything to do with his re-election.”

The operative said that between Steele’s gaffes and the committee’s dismal fundraising numbers, it is unclear why he should be given a second term.

In the end, the debate over whether Steele should run may be academic. A southern Republican lawmaker argued Steele will likely drop out after the field of candidates becomes clear.

“I don’t think he can muster the support to even run. It’s like any other election. You have to wait until the field is set, and I think that will diminish his support greatly,” the lawmaker said.