Steele to drop out?

The troubled stewardship of the RNC appears to be heading to a close.  According to Politico’s sources within the Republican Party, Michael Steele will announce his withdrawal from the upcoming election of chair, ending his bid for a second term after a controversial two-year run:

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele intends to announce his reelection plans on Monday evening, and key supporters expect him to drop out of the hotly contested race, top Republicans tell POLITICO.

A new chairman will be elected next month during the committee’s winter meeting.

Steele, a former Maryland lieutenant governor, has built no known reelection team or structure, making the prospect of a campaign unlikely in the face of competition that grows fiercer by the day. But allies said Steele has not revealed his plans, and the chairman has been nothing if not unpredictable.

Republicans reaped heavy publicity in January 2009 when they chose Steele as the party’s first African-American chairman, but he has proven to be a poor fundraiser and gaffe-prone messenger.

Why do they assume that Steele is backing out?  He invited all of the committee members to join him on a private conference call tonight.  Had Steele wanted to make a case for his re-election, these sources tell Mike Allen and Jonathan Martin, Steele would have called them individually to pitch another term.  At this point, there’s nothing else to discuss, and so it appears that Steele wants to announce his withdrawal to everyone at once.

Allen and Martin cover the problem succinctly in that fourth paragraph.  The wheels came off of the RNC in 2009-10, and the GOP simply cannot afford a repeat in the presidential election cycle of 2012.  When Steele used his star power to win election to his first term, even some of his supporters understood that Steele didn’t have a track record for organization and fundraising.  It was his media savvy that Republicans wanted, which is why the series of gaffes stunned and angered the GOP over the past two years.

However, the fundraising problem is just as much the fault of the RNC as it is its chair’s.  The central committee should have insisted on a business manager position to handle the organizing while Steele handled the media outreach.  It took far too long to discover that the organizing and fundraising wasn’t being done at all.  While Steele will undoubtedly take some credit for the historic win in the House in the midterms, the RNC was essentially irrelevant, deep in debt and no GOTV efforts in the home stretch.  If third-party groups hadn’t ridden to the rescue, Nancy Pelosi might still be speaker — and if the RNC had organized properly, the GOP might have picked up a few more seats in the House.

The next RNC chair should have a solid track record on organization and fundraising, and probably debt retirement, too.  We can find other people to handle media relations; as the RNC discovered, neither is particularly easy, but it’s more critical to organize than to appear on Fox News Sunday.  And in the next two years, the RNC has to build in some accountability to make sure that the committee can discover quickly when things start going wrong, rather than finding out when it’s too late to fix in an upcoming election.