Steele’s plight is emblematic of the tensions between those of the reigning Bush establishment who feel they still rule the party and more conservative newcomers seeking to take the party in a different direction.
Steele came to office shortly before a book he authored blasted every Republican administration since Reagan for having abandoned conservative principles (the offending administrations, of course, were both named Bush). Though Steele’s thesis gets no argument from me, or many others, it was not the best way to assume control of a party apparatus still heavily infested with Bushies. Early on, in fact, Steele chose not to court the remaining apparatchiks from the Bush era, arguing (correctly) that they were the ones who put the party into the mess it was in in the first place. This proved to be another grievous error; if the denouement of Steele’s troubled reign were a movie, it could be called “The Establishment Strikes Back.”
Bush allies detested Chairman Steele almost from the start, and they had long infiltrated other areas of the RNC apparatus—the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee among them—that were waging a cold war against him. The seemingly endless press attacks on Steele, often quoting unnamed Republican sources with access to internal records, were usually orchestrated by this group, almost to the point of becoming a bloodsport.