Last week, during a major dinner at CPAC, one of the event’s spokespeople made a pretty insulting comment regarding Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee.
CPAC communications director Ian Walters accused the GOP of essentially making an affirmative action hire in naming Steele as the party leader in 2009.
[O]n Friday, at the largest annual gathering on the right, the Conservative Political Action Conference’s communications director Ian Walters addressed the Reagan Dinner and wistfully mused over the GOP’s response to the election of Barack Obama: “What did we do [in 2009]? This is a terrible thing. We elected Mike Steele RNC chair because he was a black guy and that was the wrong thing to do.”
Robert George of the New York Daily News goes on to explain just how incredibly wrong Walters was in his characterization of the 2009 chairman’s race.
Steele won on the sixth ballot, defeating five other hopefuls (including another black candidate). This suggests considerable backroom negotiating and hard work to convince multiple people multiple times. Steele won the chairmanship the old-fashioned way: He earned it.
And for a supposedly “terrible” decision, the GOP sure prospered in Steele’s tenure: The 2010 midterms brought the GOP control of the House with a 63-seat pickup, plus six in the Senate and 600-plus in the state legislatures.
Steele wasn’t perfect: He battled the committee over spending and picked an arguably needless fight with Rush Limbaugh. But by the most objective measure — electoral results — he had nothing for which apologize.
Steele, now a co-host of the Sirius XM show Steele & Ungar, was joined on the air by Matt Schlapp, chair of the American Conservative Union (the organization that puts on CPAC). Schlapp called Walters’ words “unfortunate,” but Steele was having none of it.
— The Hill (@thehill) February 25, 2018
“Those words that tumbled out of his mouth, I believed were unfortunate words,” Schlapp told Steele, who served as RNC chairman from 2009 until 2011.
“They were stupid. It’s not ‘unfortunate,’ ” Steele shot back. “Call it what it is. It is stupid to sit there and say that we elected a black man chairman of the party and that was a mistake. Do you know how that sounds to the black community?”
Steele’s time as the head of the party was a successful one, and Walters’ comments, as Steele points out, were way more than unfortunate. It is also a great example of why conservatives struggle on the issue of race. Steele was chosen, as George suggests above, based on his merit and the negotiations in the room at the time of the vote. Race was not involved.
But for folks like Walters, who try to “overcorrect” on issues over race and social justice, the hiring of a black man for a political role must have been affirmative action, which automatically makes it wrong.
It’s a ridiculous whitewashing of history in order to make a political point, and Walters is a damn fool for engaging in it. Dismissing Steele’s accomplishments because of race does nothing but set conservatives back when trying to work on issues of race.