RNC chairman Michael Steele’s two most visible aides announced Sunday they would resign their posts later this week, following the group’s annual Winter Meeting in which it will select a new chairman.
When the former Maryland lieutenant governor took over the reigns of the national party apparatus two years ago, he promised an “off the hook” public relations campaign. Instead, Steele’s tenure has been marred by controversy, each more disquieting and embarrassing than the last.
For Michael Leavitt and Doug Heye, Steele’s chief of staff and communications director respectively, the chairman’s provocations were all-consuming.
From his mischaracterization of the Afghan war effort to playing the race card — and even the rationalization that his verbal misfires constituted some grand communications strategy — they were there for it all. But now they’re parting ways, even as their boss looks to retain his control over the committee.
While the two don’t expect Steele to successfully fend off his four challengers — the pair’s former colleague Gentry Collins last night dropped his bid to unseat Steele — they say they wouldn’t remain on staff even if the beleaguered chairman upset the handicappers and remained atop the Committee.
A majority of the RNC’s 168 members indicated in a new survey Monday they would not support Steele’s reelection bid. Fifty-five members, according to a Politico whip count, said they will not support the chairman under any circumstances while another thirty-three pledged to support his challengers.
Worse still for a chairman who won his post only after 6 intense rounds of balloting, not a single member of the committee indicated Steele was their second choice.
And so it appears Leavitt and Heye won’t be the only ones adjusting to life after the RNC.
In an email to friends and colleagues announcing his departure, Heye praised the efforts of RNC staff despite “difficult circumstances.” In an interview Sunday with Politico, Heye twice more spoke of the RNC’s “challenging” work environment.
To even the casual RNC observer, there is little question what created such a heavy lift for an otherwise adept communicator.
When the chairman of the Republican National Committee appropriates language once used by anti-war Democrats to describe the on-going war efforts in Afghanistan, his aides can only do so much. In this case, they could only buckle up and prepare for turbulence.
Heye has not yet announced his next job job, but Leavitt is said to have accepted a lobbying position straddling Maine and D.C.
This afternoon, Chairman Steele will debate his four would-be replacements — Saul Anuzis, Maria Cino, Reince Preibus and Ann Wagner — in an event jointly hosted by ATR and the Daily Caller and broadcast by C-SPAN.