Steele's Worst Week Ever
Michael Steele has been chairman of the Republican National Committee for the past 60 weeks. One of them had to be his worst. This is it.
Capping five consecutive days of whack-a-Mike was a highly critical column on Friday morning's Wall Street Journal "Opinion" page. One of the most prominent, reliably conservative, pro-Republican venues in America thus became the latest to pile on Steele, with a Journal staff commentator administering a firm thumping of the former Maryland lieutenant governor.
Kimberly Strassel, author of the Potomac Watch column, describes this week's RNC spending scandal as "the latest evidence that Mr. Steele has yet to figure out his role."
She adds: "That confusion could mean the difference between a decent GOP midterm victory and a big one."
The Journal columnist went back over some of the stumbles of Steele's first year in office, including his perception of himself as a "shadow president," his "swollen entourages" and "luxury spending."
That's "a problem," she explains, "not just because it is burning up vital money, but because it threatens the RNC's ability to capitalize on donors in the crucial months ahead."
"How the RNC performs could be the difference between a 20-seat House pickup and a switch to a Republican majority," concludes Strassel.
More than a few Republican insiders would argue with her conclusion. Anyway, party donors are free to give to the national Republican House, Senate and Governors' campaign committees. There are multiple ways to deliver money to Republican candidates and campaigns if contributors choose to shun the RNC.
Strassel also points out that dumping Steele as chairman "brings its own problems."
She might have added that firing him is also virtually impossible, and hard to imagine, unless and until another scandal erupts.
Under party rules, Steele enjoys nearly air-tight protection in his job, which pays $223,500 a year (plus those perks like private jets and limos).
To oust a chairman would take the votes of two-thirds of the RNC's 165 members. And that brings us back to Steele's week.
He began it in Tampa, Florida, where he was accompanying 12 RNC members on one of the cushiest jobs in American politics: picking the site of the party's next presidential nominating convention.
Steele personally chose the site-selection committee members for this princely plum. The lucky RNC members get to travel to all of the cities that are competing to become the site of the 2012 Republican National Convention.
At each stop, they spend several days being wined and dined. Then they move on to the next suitor. Typically, they, or other RNC members chosen for follow-up committee duty, can expected to pay return trips to the winning convention site, where, again, they'll be treated like visiting royalty.
In recent days, Steele and Company have been to Phoenix and Tampa. Steele was unexpectedly absent from a press conference with the RNC members that took place on Monday, the same day the scandal broke about RNC spending at a lesbian-themed topless joint in Hollywood. Next up for the hard-working RNC selection committee: a visit to Salt Lake City next week.
National party conventions are among of the biggest reasons that activists compete to serve on the RNC (or its Democratic counterpart).
Committee members get prime seats inside the convention hall, hard-to-get hotel rooms (or suites) in the convention city and lots of opportunities to rub shoulders with their party's most important politicians. In many cases, they are official delegates, with a formal vote to cast on the choice of their party's nominee for president, which prompts another round of intense wooing and partying.
Care and feeding of national committee members is one of a chairman's most important jobs. In Steele's case, it's a matter of survival and a top priority.
It helps explain one of his recent controversial moves: convening the RNC's winter meeting at a Waikiki Beach resort in January. The unusual decision, at a time of national recession, was actually payback for members of the RNC's "Island caucus," whose votes put him over the top in the 2009 chairman's race.
Each of the following U.S. territories and affiliates get three RNC members--American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico--the exact same allotment as Maryland and 49 other states and the District of Columbia.
National committee politics, it's been said, turns out to be more like high school politics than real politics. In Steele's case, satisfying the needs of 55 fellow RNCers is virtually all he needs to do to keep his job, through the good weeks and the bad.