The Spectacle Blog

What’s the Deal with Steele?

By on 1.29.09 | 3:28PM

Some questions remain about Michael Steele that he should focus on as he makes his final pitch to committeemen today.

First is the question every candidate should be answering. What has he done to demonstrate that he has the sort of executive ability needed to lead the RNC? The GOP is in deep trouble, and no more mistakes are necessary.

For one thing, he was the LG for Bob Erlich, he ran a hard-fought senate race in Maryland. He was also the chairman of the MD GOP. He also has a law practice -- meaning he's rooted in the real world, not just the political one. (It is not clear, however, whether he's leaving this law practice and would likely keep his name on the firm to bring them more business.)

I've asked this question of Anuzis, too. But how has Maryland fared under Steele? Did Maryland pick up seats in the legislature during his tenure? Not really. How was he as a fundraiser, one of the main jobs of a chairman? Middling. Out of power and in a bad economy, committeemen need to ask how Steele will be able to pull in the big bucks for the party.

Which leads to another point. Steele needs to make a case that GOPAC has entered new territory under his leadership. Unfortunately, there isn't much of that, not to the level of Club for Growth's big impact. How much money has GOPAC given directly to candidates? How much money have they poured into independent expenditures? You ask anyone in the know, they will tell you that GOPAC is certainly a nice little group that does some good things, but they are in no way a major player on the level of the Club for Growth or NRA or any other major advocacy group on the GOP side. They're not weighing into primaries a la the Club and it's not like they've made a tremendous difference in general elections either. If Steele can get a few congressmen or state legislators to stand up and say that GOPAC made all the difference for them, Steele will have a solid point in his favor.

Committeemen are also uncertain about how he'll be inclusive if he has lined up with Republicans who have frequently trashed the conservative base. Look at his involvement with the Republican Leadership Council along with Christine Todd Whitman and John Danforth. This is a group founded ostensibly to bring moderates into the party. And coming from the great white northeast as I do, I see the value in that. But then again, the RLC spent a great deal of money in primaries attacking conservatives.

The other rumor floating around is how Steele is the Consultant Candidate. His campaign, for instance, is being run by Blaise Hazelwood, former political director of the RNC, wife of Dan Hazelwood, one of the biggest voter contact mail vendors. During Bush's term she steered nearly all RNC business to a very small cadre of firms. Steele needs to be clear that these affiliations don't give the impression that this is a case of "meet the new boss, same as the old boss." Committeemen are concerned about putting the people back in charge who just oversaw two of the biggest GOP losses since Watergate.

Now that the Dems elected a black President, the GOP can't fix all its problems by changing the "optics" of this whole thing and electing a black RNC chair. Steele, who is a highly visible "optic" change for the GOP, would probably be one of the most effective off-the-cuff communicators. But he would have to find some way to make sure the conservative base doesn't feel like it's getting sold out because he's throwing his lot with pro-choice candidates -- a really difficult balance.

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