The Daily Caller accuses Michael Steele of playing the race card and hinting that racism might be the motive if he gets bounced from his position as RNC chair after a historic midterm victory.  But the report by Jonathan Strong makes a weak case for it when the actual interview is heard:

Embattled Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Michael Steele has often turned to the subject of race in his nearly two-year tenure.

But last week, in a radio interview with Rev. Al Sharpton, Steele ratcheted up the rhetoric, appearing to agree with Sharpton that if he is not reelected as RNC chairman, it will be because the GOP is racist, making “the brother take the fall.”

Sharpton said he couldn’t believe Republicans would even think of ditching Steele as RNC chair.

“You’d be the first brother run out after doing a good job. It would be interesting to see them have a historic win, and the brother takes the fall. Usually the brother takes the fall when they lose,” Sharpton said.

“You’re right. Well, you know, that’s going to be remain to be seen,” Steele said. “I get it. There are folks who are not exactly thrilled with my style of leadership. As I said recently, ‘they’ll get used to it.’”

This comes from an interview last Friday between Steele and Sharpton, the entirety of which is in this YouTube.  Steele starts the interview “on message,” noting as many other Republican leaders did that the election wasn’t an endorsement of Republicans as much as it was the rejection of the Democratic agenda.  He also insisted that compromise couldn’t involve more spending and debt, but that the GOP had plenty of ideas on how to address the issues of the day. Sharpton asked Steele whether the election of two black Republicans to the House meant that they would join the Congressional Black Caucus, and Steele said they should, in order to challenge the CBC’s orthodoxy. Steele also defended the expansion of the GOP’s outreach, while agreeing that more needed to be done.

It was actually going pretty well, until the exchange that occurs at the eight-minute mark:

Sharpton never used the word “racist,” and Strong correctly leaves it out of the quote, but his second paragraph makes Sharpton sound as if he made that argument explicitly and Steele’s “You’re right” was in response to it.  In listening to the actual interview, Sharpton made his accusation slightly less explicit than making that flat-out accusation.  The “You’re right” obviously refers to Sharpton’s observation that political parties don’t usually fire their leader after big wins, which Steele makes clear by talking about the conflicts created by his “style of leadership” as the cause of his political difficulties within the RNC.

Steele has made some gaffes on his own without help from the media, and there has been plenty to criticize about Steele’s performance.  This isn’t one of those, though.  Sharpton tried playing the race card; Steele didn’t take the bait.

Steele has bigger problems this morning anyway, with popular Republican organizer Saul Anuzis declaring his candidacy for the chairmanship:

Former Michigan Republican Party chairman Saul Anuzis on Friday will become the first major candidate to announce a bid to chair the Republican National Committee.

In a letter being sent to national committee members, Anuzis says the decision to challenge incumbent chairman Michael Steele did not come easy, given his close relationship with Steele. But, he says, the only way for Republican to win back the White House is to get the RNC on the right path.

“The overriding challenge we face is winning back the Presidency in 2012 and we will not accomplish that objective unless there is dramatic change in the way the RNC does business,” Anuzis wrote to members. “We can’t rely on our wins in 2010 to carry us to success in 2012. We also can’t win in 2012 unless the RNC re-establishes itself as the powerful force that put us over the top in 2000 and 2004.

Anuzis hits directly at Steele’s performance, making the argument that the big victory came despite Steele rather than because of him — and that it could have been bigger:

The pitch also focuses on what might have been had the RNC been as big a player in the party’s get-out-the-vote operations as it had been in earlier years.

“Thankfully, in 2010 a group of alternative organizations emerged to help fill the void created by the RNC’s shortage of resources. They found support from many RNC major donors who had lost faith in the RNC. We need these groups and their support, but they can’t be expected to replace the RNC in a presidential year. We must rebuild the trust with our party’s major donors and bring them back to the table.”

“Think about your own state. Did some terrific Republican candidate work their hearts out, yet fall short by a handful of votes on Election Day? Now ask yourself: if the RNC had properly funded the Victory program in your state, would that candidate have been a winner? Would that candidate have benefited from a robust 72-hour program with ground troops sweeping in for the final weekend?” Anuzis wrote to committee members.

If Steele loses, it will be because of the lack of resources and direction the RNC had and the need to strengthen its position ahead of the 2012 elections.