Opposition continues to mount against Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele, and it has actually intensified since the Chair announced his bid for re-election only a week ago. As the race for Chair fast approaches the RNC Winter meeting, accusations of playing the race card and racism itself abound on both sides of the aisle. The GOP seems both anxious and angry that Steele is hinting at using his Blackness as an issue during the race, a move that could very well hurt the RNC heading into 2012 by hampering its ability to attract growing minority demographics.
And despite an electoral tsunami on Nov. 2 and a majority in the House, Republicans find themselves heading into 2011 with a party apparatus in disarray. At the center of it is Steele, the party’s first African American chair and a former Lieutenant Governor plucked by the GOP establishment as a counterweight to the election of the first Black President. Now, to the chagrin of that same establishment and an assorted chorus of high profile partisans looking to change direction, Steele has announced plans to run for a second term.
The announcement, which came after weeks of barely a public murmur from the embattled Chair, is creating an air of uncertainty surrounding the RNC before its annual Winter Meeting in January. Steele himself will face a major test of personal will and political influence as he is expected to face a crowded field that includes a number of discontented party operatives and former loyalists.
But, Steele’s move presents a problematic scenario for the Republican Party as much as it puts Steele back into the spotlight of controversy. Conventional wisdom within the GOP, perhaps eager for self-fulfilling prophecy, expected Steele to announce that he was stepping down. Still, every report or analysis ended with the characterization of the Chairman as “unpredictable” and there was persistent chatter among many longtime Black Republican activists and supporters to “brace for a Steele comeback.” Some also saw it as a shrewd professional move of political chess, an attempt to negotiate a lucrative exit strategy.
“At the end of the day, Steele is in it for Steele,” says a former senior Capitol Hill staffer who is too close to party leadership to reveal their identity. “He’s looking for a deal on the way out, either sitting on a corporate board or landing a job making six figures at a firm.”
“More than likely, he’s probably doing this to write a tell-all book,” jokes blogger Danielle Belton of theBlackSnob.com. Belton suggests that Steele may have exhausted all options and may run for Chair as a way “to make noise.”
Hence, the boisterous Chair – who is hard to reach for interviews these days – has not disappointed, telling those present in a hastily scheduled conference call that he was forging ahead with a re-election bid.
Reports Ralph Z. Hollow and David Eldridge in The Washington Times:
“Who you elect as our next Chairman will speak volumes about our willingness to truly be the party of Lincoln,” Mr. Steele said [during a 30-minute conference call in which he announced his bid for a second term].
[Jim Bopp, RNC Committee Member from Indiana] took umbrage with the statement.
“It is apparent that when Steele loses, he wants to take down theRNC with him,” Mr. Bopp said. “This is the threat he has made by playing the race card – he will smear the RNC by saying we are all racist by not voting for him.”
In which Steele responded during an interview on WBAL-FM in Baltimore, Maryland, accusing Bopp of expressing sour grapes over losing a $1 million RNC contract:
Well, Mr. Bopp is an idiot. If he took that away from, and I don’t want to be crass and I don’t want to throw stones at him but I just think that’s an idiotic statement to make. I refer to myself as a Lincoln Republican, that’s who I am. I define myself through the party origins, the party that spoke to and about the freedom and emancipation of all people, not just black folks. […] Jim Bopp has been against my chairmanship from the very beginning, and I understand that, maybe it has something to do with my cutting his million dollar contract with the RNC, I don’t know. Regardless of that, the reality of it is, it’s crazy.
ThinkProgress.org has a clip of the interview here on its website.
In another development, one of Steele’s rivals in the RNC Chair race, Maria Cino – a former Bush Administration official in the Department of Transportation – has contributed quite a bit of her own personal money to Republican Congressional candidates and political action committees, Tricia Miller in Roll Call reports:
In the 2008 and 2010 election cycles, Cino gave a total of $14.500 to 16 Congressional candidates, two political action committees and the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). Though she spread out much of her giving in amounts of $250 and $500, she did give to Senate challengers in the 2010 cycle, including $1,250 to Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, and $1,000 each to Reps. John Boozman in Arkansas and Mike Castle in Delaware and Jane Norton in Colorado. She also gave $500 each to Roy Blunt in Missouri and Todd Tiahrt in Kansas. Castle, Norton and Tiahrt lost their primaries, but Ayotte, Boozman and Blunt will be sworn in to the Senate in January. During the 2008 cycle, she gave $1,000 to Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) and $1,500 to McCain. Her biggest donation was $2,500 given to Pfizer Inc. PAC in 2009.
Although not considered a front-runner, Cino is endorsed by such GOP heavyweights as Mississippi Governor and former RNC Chair Haley Barbour and former Bush political strategist Karl Rove.
In a new and unusual twist, the two African American committee members of the RNC, retired physician Ada Fisher and retired banker Glen McCall, have both stated they are not supporting Steele’s bid for Chair. ”I’m not only not supporting him, I’m not supporting any of his lieutenants, which includes [former RNC Political Director Gentry] Collins and [former RNC lead counsel Reince] Priebus,” Fisher told Roll Call during an interview.