The Problem with Michael Steele

The Associated Press is hearing what others are hearing. Michael Steele isn’t going anywhere:

interviews with more than a dozen party operatives indicate there’s little desire to wage a complicated, perhaps uncertain, effort to oust him with just six months left in his two-year term.

As the Wall Street Journal explains, the math is simply too difficult to remove Steele:

Republican Party rules could make it difficult for any of Mr. Steele’s critics to secure his ouster. Under the rules, two-thirds of the committee’s 168 members, or 112 members, would have to vote in favor of such a move.

Mr. Steele won the RNC chairmanship by 91-77 vote on the last ballot against Mr. Dawson. If all members who opposed Mr. Steele in 2009 voted against him in an ouster vote, the vote would not succeed unless 35 members who had backed Mr. Steele for chairman now opposed him.

Republicans have two problems here: the first is Michael Steele and the second is the structure of the RNC. The problem with Steele is that he doesn’t really want to be the RNC chairman. The job of the RNC chairman is to raise money, and Steele wants to be a pundit or a strategist. Just to recall a few of Steele’s many gaffes: he called Rush Limbaugh’s show “ugly,” mused about whether Republicans are ready to lead, speculated the GOP didn’t nominate Mitt Romney because he’s a Mormon, attacked conservatives for “slammin’ and rammin” Sonia Sotomayor, threatened to “come after” GOP moderates, and now has called Afghanistan Obama’s war. In other words, Steele wants to critique Republicans or, however illogically, craft their message. Hence his cringe-inducing attempts to make the GOP hip–remember the “What Up?” blog or the “bling-bling” stimulus?

Steele apparently believes that simply raising money and sticking to talking points is beneath him. And the RNC’s fundraising efforts are hurting:

With the party banking on major gains in midterm elections, the Republican National Committee is suddenly being hit with a severe cut in money originally budgeted to help state parties identify and get voters to the polls on Nov. 2, The Washington Times has learned.

The cuts, which RNC officials say still must be approved by the budget committee, would slice by a third the amount of money originally budgeted for targeted political operations, including funds to help state parties hire staff and beef up get-out-the-vote operations.

The $12.2 million downward revision means that state GOP operations will have to trim their Election Day “victory” programs, according to a new budget blueprint prepared for RNC Chairman Michael S. Steele and sent to members of the budget committee for approval.

The RNC and DNC have each raised about $130 million this election cycle, and if you subtract the debt owed by the parties, the RNC and DNC each had about $11.5 million in cash on hand at the end of May. Shouldn’t the RNC be crushing the DNC in such a favorable election year for Republicans?

Eric Cantor tried ever so gently to urge Steele to “focus on the traditional role of the party chair, which is to raise the resources necessary and deliver the election.” Cantor, like Jim DeMint and John McCain, expressed no confidence in Steele yet stopped short of calling for his resignation. Which brings us to the problem with the RNC’s structure.

Take it away, Jay Cost:

So how is it that Michael Steele has been able to wreak all this havoc upon a party that won the support of nearly 60 million Americans in 2008? It goes like this: the state Republican parties elected their RNC members, who elected Michael Steele, who has embarrassed his party.

What’s wrong with this? For starters, the role of the state parties should be of concern. Picture this: you’re a young, idealistic Republican who just moved into a new state. You want to help the cause, so you pick up the phone intent to find a political organization or outlet for which you can volunteer. Do you call your state Republican party? No, didn’t think so.

The reality is that the state party organizations used to be powerful entities that dispensed patronage to keep an iron grip on political power. Think Matthew Quay in Pennsylvania or Roscoe Conkling in New York. But the Teddy Roosevelt’s of the world got their way, and there is basically no more patronage for these organizations to control, which means that they are merely shells of their former selves. Really, what they do today is help state candidates launder money to exploit the legal loopholes in federal and state campaign finance laws. They are not really open organizations, as Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren envisioned when they created the first modern political party in the 1820s. The Republican base does not participate in them, which means in turn that they do not really represent their interests. Additionally, they are only tangentially related to Republicans in Congress, who – because they have to win primary battles – can at least claim to represent the millions of people who call themselves Republicans. And yet these members of Congress are powerless to do anything about Michael Steele.

Cost concludes that Republicans “either should work to make their existing organizations more inclusive, so that the tens of millions of self-identified Republicans not only vote for candidates but vote for party leaders. Or, they should entrust it with congressional Republicans (and other elite party stakeholders) for safekeeping until the White House returns to Republican control.”

But for the time being, Michael Steele is here to stay. So sit back, and let Jon Stewart help you enjoy the ride.

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