Michael Steele's technological problem
Part of Michael Steele’s pitch to Republican National Committee members picking a new chairman was that he was the right person to oversee a technological overhaul of the party.
But his rocky start has undercut that claim.
As James Oliphant of the Tribune’s Washington bureau reported, the RNC has lost some of its top technological talent in the house-cleaning overseen by Steele.
“Last week, the organization lost Cyrus Krohn, who was credited with modernizing the GOP online effort,” Oliphant wrote in a story he filed for use in the Tribune’s weekend papers. “Krohn’s departure was curious because Steele had spoken often about the need to compete technologically with Democrats. A Silicon Valley veteran, Krohn increased the party’s e-mail list from 1.8 million to 12 million in little more than a year.”
Once he makes up with Rush Limbaugh and quells the concerns of some who are demanding he step down already, Steele faces the challenge of making lots of hires to fulfill his pledges.
To read the full Oliphant story, follow the link below.
By James Oliphant
This hasn’t been the smoothest rollout for the new chairman of the beleaguered Republican Party, Michael Steele. As debuts go, it may rank right up there with New Coke and the movie Waterworld.
Steele celebrated his ascension as head of the Republican National Committee by almost immediately picking a fight with Rush Limbaugh — the one party icon still standing amid the rubble of stinging election defeats in 2006 and 2008 that cost Republicans control of Congress and then the White House.
A black man, Steele raised eyebrows by using street lingo in promising a “hip-hop” GOP outreach effort that would be “off the hook” and saying he would show one Republican politician some “slum love.” More problematic, Steele suggested that the RNC might not support several moderate Senate incumbents in primary races, remarks he quickly withdrew.
For a party that is looking for fresh guidance, Steele’s first weeks have left more than a few faithful wondering if their promised new direction might head them straight off a cliff.
But Steele’s supporters say he has undertaken a monumental challenge and should be given sufficient time to accomplish his work.
A former lieutenant governor of Maryland and unsuccessful Senate candidate, Steele has been assigned to rebuild the Republican brand from the ground up.
Polls show that there is ample work to do. A recent New York Times/CBS News survey showed that Americans identifying themselves as Democrats outnumber those who say they are Republicans by 10 percentage points, the largest gap in party identification in 24 years.
Even as Republicans on Capitol Hill say they have made themselves politically relevant by taking a strong stand against President Barack Obama’s economic policies, his approval ratings have stayed consistently high. GOP numbers continue to fall.
A fight last week within the party involving Steele and Limbaugh, the conservative talk radio host, probably didn’t help.
Steele criticized Limbaugh on a late-night talk show. Limbaugh, along with his ardent supporters — some of the party’s most dedicated rank-and-file — blew a gasket.
“It’s time, Mr. Steele, for you to go behind the scenes and start doing the work that you were elected to do instead of trying to be some talking-head media star, which you’re having a tough time pulling off,” Limbaugh said.
Katon Dawson, who was the runner-up to Steele in the party vote for the new chairman, said the dispute with Limbaugh was regrettable because the RNC risked alienating the small “$25 to $100” donors who are the “heartbeat” of the party.
Steele ended up apologizing to the radio host, and Dawson, chairman of the South Carolina GOP, said it would be up to Limbaugh, not Steele, to help “heal that wound.”
But Dawson said he supports Steele, saying, “He has the promise to be a tremendous chairman.” Steele’s closest aides acknowledge that Steele perhaps should have spent less time early in his tenure trying to be the public face of the party and more time working to rebuild the party organization.
“We are going to try again to be a more bottom-up organization,” said Curt Anderson, a political consultant recruited by Steele to help restructure the RNC.
The first act has been gutting the staff in Washington, D.C. Anderson said that the RNC was still staffed at “presidential levels” when Steele took over, failing to reflect the party’s minority status. Steele also inherited an expensive polling project conducted after the election, Anderson said, that ended up telling the party what it already knew: It was deeply unpopular nationally.
Since then, more than 70 people have lost their jobs at the RNC, and Steele currently has no senior staff. Last week, the organization lost Cyrus Krohn, who was credited with modernizing the GOP online effort.
Krohn’s departure was curious because Steele had spoken often about the need to compete technologically with Democrats. A Silicon Valley veteran, Krohn increased the party’s e-mail list from 1.8 million to 12 million in little more than a year.
Not long ago, the RNC was viewed as a model of political efficiency and a strategic powerhouse that mastered the craft of getting voters to the polls on election day. Obama’s presidential campaign was modeled in part on RNC tactics — but he took them one better.
Anderson says as much. “There’s nobody I know who can say we didn’t get our clock cleaned in our use of technology in 2008,” he said.
The RNC did make one key appointment last week, naming California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring the head of the committee of state chairmen, meaning he will help coordinate strategy on the state level. “We will be focused on being the clearinghouse for the exchange of research, best practices and ideas among state Republican leaders,” Nehring said.
Steele will take his time filling slots at the RNC, Anderson said. One thing in his favor: The committee is being flooded by resumes. These are hard times for Republican job-seekers.
“We didn’t get in this in a month, and we’re not getting out of this in a month,” he said.