It’ll be tough, but if he demagogues it just right…

As we have written many times before, handicapping a race decided by 168 people — many of whom are operating almost entirely out of self interest — is a tricky business.

But, Steele clearly starts from a position of relative weakness in the race. He has a committed group of supporters — 30? 40? — but no obvious plan by which to convince those undecided RNC members why they should vote for him.

(For what it’s worth, the argument Steele seemed to be putting forward last night in an interview with Greta Van Susteren was that he is in better touch with the grassroots of the party than the other candidates. “I’m much more of a street guy,” Steele said. “I love hanging out in boardrooms, but I prefer to be in neighborhoods and communities.”)

That’s his best bet, although even in that case, I’m not sure how much leverage he’d have or whether an insular Beltway institution like the RNC would feel cowed by a surge of grassroots fervor on Steele’s behalf. If Palin endorsed him and if, say, he started making dramatic promises to reorient the RNC so that it’ll favor the more conservative candidate in Republican primaries, he’d get the attention of tea partiers and bring some pressure to bear on RNC members who wouldn’t want to completely alienate the base. Maybe they’d follow the logic I laid out yesterday and decide it’s better to leave him in charge and trust conservative outside groups to pick up the managerial slack for Campaign 2012.

The problem with that thinking: The RNC typically lives and dies by big donors, and it’s big donors who are already allegedly threatening to formally boycott the organization if Steele is reelected. A big grassroots push on his behalf would only scare them further away, so unless Steele can convince the committee that they’re better off financially with small contributions from a huge pool of grassroots donors than they are with huge donations from a small pool of rich guys, there’s no incentive for committee members to play along. In fact, I doubt the pool of grassroots donors would be as huge as anyone expects now that contributing to individual campaigns is becoming more popular. If the average middle-class Republican plans on donating $200 in 2012, what’s he more likely to do — dump it all on the RNC or split it between the Republican nominee and a few candidates he really likes? If it’s the latter, as I suspect, then not even a grassroots-fueled Michael Steele candidacy provides much reason for RNC members to vote for him. And that’s assuming that a grassroots-fueled Steele candidacy is even possible. At this point, with so much at stake in the next cycle, I wonder if even tea partiers would balk at an “us vs. them” populist campaign for the chairmanship and embrace a “just win, baby” approach.

Here’s last night’s Greta interview, where you’ll find him insisting that people dislike him because of his “style” and because he insists on leaving the party’s “comfort zone” to campaign in places like Harlem. See DrewM’s answers to that. If the RNC had been a major factor in last month’s big red wave and was currently flush with cash, I’ve got a crazy hunch that his style would be A-OK.

Tags: Sarah Palin