Toe to toe with Rush Limbaugh, Michael Steele blinked first
In the battle between RNC chairman Michael Steele and talk show host Rush Limbaugh, Steele blinked first.
But the feud may not dissolve anytime soon.
The flap began over the weekend, and has become fodder for cable news shows and political blogs.
Steele made a weekend appearance on the DL Hughley show on CNN, and fielded a question over whether Limbaugh – who had just delivered a fiery speech at the CPAC convention – was the “de facto” head of the Republican Party.
Not so, said Steele. Limbaugh was an entertainer, the former Maryland lieutenant governor said. And he sometimes used “ugly” rhetoric, such as hoping that President Barack Obama’s economic policies would fail.
To be sure, there was no way that Limbaugh would stay quiet. On his radio show yesterday, Limbaugh lashed into Steele.
Limbaugh said Steele needed to focus more attention on backroom party building, and less on being a talking head. Limbaugh accused Steele of being ungrateful after the host had Steele on his show during Steele’s 2006 Senate bid.
After the impact of Limbaugh’s words sank in, Steele had second thoughts. He told Politico’s Mike Allen that he called Limbaugh to apologize.
“I went back at that tape and I realized words that I said weren't what I was thinking," Steele said. "It was one of those things where I thinking I was saying one thing, and it came out differently. What I was trying to say was a lot of people ... want to make Rush the scapegoat, the bogeyman, and he's not."
Some national commentators are painting the flap as a battle for the soul of the Republican Party.
It is also the nation’s first in-depth look at the glib, off-the-cuff Michael Steele – which Marylanders have witnessed for years.
Millions are now learning that Steele’s first instincts are to make comments that while sometimes clever, are not particularly well thought-out in hindsight.
The tendency has been on display locally. In 2005, when asked his view about Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., his political partner, holding a fund-raising event at an all-white country club, Steele responded: "I don't know that much about the club, the membership, nor do I care, quite frankly, because I don't play golf. It's not an issue with me."
He later apologized for appearing to be insensitive.
As a Senate candidate in 2006, he explained his opposition to stem cell research, telling a predominantly Jewish audience in Baltimore that they should understand better than anyone the dangers of experimentation on humans, a clear reference to Nazi-era scientific work.
He later apologized, called the remarks “irresponsible.”
Steele lost the Senate race. He’s no longer lieutenant governor. He’s now got a much more visible platform, though. The stakes are higher.
How many more mistakes will he get?