Among the candidates for Republican National Committee chairman, there’s no question Michael Steele is among the most recognizable -- a political celebrity thanks to his work for Fox News and run for U.S. Senate in 2006.
Aside from his political celebrity -- and knack for being a good talking head -- there’s little else about the man that would make him a good chairman. While much has been written about his candidacy and the reasons conservatives should be skeptical, time is running out to convince the 168 members of the RNC they should steer clear of him. Here’s why:
Steele boasts that his chairmanship of GOPAC qualifies him to run the RNC. He cites GOPAC’s work to elect Republicans as good preparation. So how did GOPAC fare under Steele’s leadership? During the 2008 cycle, GOPAC gave 11 candidates seeking U.S. House seats nearly $20,000. Six won and five lost. (See my update, "The Tale of Two GOPACs.")
Among GOPAC’s expenditures in 2008 was $5,000 to Steele for Maryland, even though Steele wasn’t on the ballot. The money probably went to pay off Steele’s 2006 campaign debt. It also happened to be the third largest expenditure for GOPAC, raising questions about the organization’s priorities under his leadership.
Money has been a problem for Steele in the past. Jennifer Skalka of National Journal’s Hotline reported that when Steele’s consulting business struggled financially, two banks threatened to place liens on his house. Although Steele cleared his debts, these financial issues are factors that must be considered for anyone seeking the RNC chairmanship.
Steele’s well-documented role with the Republican Leadership Council and association with co-founder Christie Todd Whitman is perhaps the most egregious political error he’s made. Any conservative who partners with the liberal Whitman must be viewed skeptically. Steele claims he was trying to broaden the party’s base by appealing to moderates. “We have to elect moderates in the party,” he told CBN’s David Brody.
One of those moderates Steele supported was former Rep. Wayne Gilchrist, a classic RINO if there ever was one. Gilchrist faced a primary challenge from conservative Andy Harris, a Maryland state senator with strong backing from the Club for Growth. It didn’t matter to Steele. He threw his support to Gilchrist. Harris went on to win the GOP primary, prompting Gilchrist to turn on the GOP and endorse Harris’ Democrat opponent.
Is this the type of judgment we could expect from Steele at the RNC? The answer is yes. How do we know? As Matt Lewis reported, Steele has tapped Blaise Hazelwood to run his RNC race, meaning there’s a good chance she would follow him to the RNC if he is elected. During the disastrous 2006 election cycle, it was Hazelwood who ran media and political operations for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Recall that the NRSC lost six seats that cycle and, as a result, the Republican majority in the Senate. Under Hazelwood’s direction, the NRSC spent $1.2 million in the GOP primary to save traitorous Lincoln Chafee from a challenge by conservative Steve Laffey.
It's not just Steele's political judgment that raises serious concerns. When he was running for U.S. Senate, Steele did not sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge from Americans for Tax Reform. If there's one issue where all Republicans should be in agreement, it's tax policy. Grover Norquist should press Steele and the five other candidates on this point at tomorrow's RNC chairman's debate.
Michael Steele is the wrong man to run the RNC. Unfortunately, he is likely one of the frontrunners for the job, given his status as a political celebrity. Unless conservatives unite in opposition, the Republican Party could very well end up in worse shape than it already is.