The End of the Road for Michael Steele?
Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele plans to announce in a conference call this evening whether he plans to seek a new term in office.
Multiple sources say Steele will announce he will not seek another two years at the RNC's winter meeting next month. But no one knows exactly what the unpredictable and controversial chairman will say - and at least one Republican insider says he plans to run again.
Steele has not been making the moves one might expect from someone gearing up for a run: Despite fierce jockeying from others who want his job, he has kept a relatively low profile in recent weeks. While Steele has been working behind the scenes to judge whether he has the votes for a new term, Politico reports that he "has built no known reelection team or structure" for a bid. He may well have concluded he doesn't have the support he needs to win.
Steele's many gaffes as chairman have certainly caused problems for the RNC. Here's quick summary of headline-making moments from his tenure:
- Not long after his election early last year, Steele said he planned an "off the hook" public relations offensive tied to the "hip hop" makeover he planned for the GOP.
- In March, he cast Rush Limbaugh as little more than an "incendiary" "entertainer," before backtracking to cast him as a "national conservative leader."
- That same month, he cast abortion as something that should be "an individual choice," breaking with his party's position on the issue. (He later insisted he opposes abortion rights.) Questions were already beginning to be asked about whether Steele would be forced out.
- In January of this year, Steele predicted that the GOP would not take the House in the midterm elections - a claim that incensed many in his party (and turned out to be incorrect).
- Less than a month later he suggested he was being criticized because of his race. He would make the claim again in April.
- In March, news broke that an RNC staffer had reimbursed a Republican donor nearly $2,000 for spending at a topless bondage-themed nightclub in Hollywood.
- In April, Steele said blacks don't have any reason to vote Republican.
- Later that month, the RNC was strongly criticized by Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah for sending out a fundraising mailing seemingly meant to suggest it was an official communication tied to the census.
- In July, he called the war in Afghanistan a "war of Obama's choosing" despite the fact that began years before President Obama took office. Steele also appeared to oppose a "land war" in Afghanistan.
Yet Steele might have weathered all this - along with the perception within the GOP that he was a self-promoter putting his interests ahead of his party's - were the RNC able to keep its fundraising dollars flowing.
That was not the case. The cracks started to show in April, when one of the group's top fundraisers walked away. The move came as outside Republican groups such as American Crossroads were gaining increasingly high profiles - groups that would end up taking in a lot of the GOP donations that could otherwise have gone to the RNC. Former unpaid RNC adviser Alex Castellanos said the same month that Steele has "lost the support of a lot of our major donors."
Last month, Steele got his first challenger in a potential reelection campaign, Former Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis, who stressed he would focus on fundraising and adding, "It is not my goal to be famous."
Four days later, the RNC's political director Gentry Collins, a veteran GOP operative, quit with a letter assailing RNC fundraising under Steele that suggested the group's failings had cost the GOP seats in the midterm elections.
Collins soon jumped into the race to replace Steele; so did Wisconsin GOP Chairman Reince Priebus, perhaps the favorite because he has the support of Henry Barbour, a respected RNC figure who is also Haley Barbour's nephew. Former RNC Co-Chairwoman Ann Wagner is also in the race, as is veteran GOP official and lobbyist Maria Cino, who has the backing of the Bush wing of the party. And a source told Politico's Mike Allen that if Steele does indeed get out of the way, former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman will also throw his hat in the ring.
All that competition, coupled with everything else, would seem to suggest that Steele is on the way out. But until he formally announces his intentions to RNC colleagues on a closed conference call at 7:30 p.m. Eastern, it's impossible to know for sure. Quipped one top Republican to Allen over the weekend, after the call was announced: "Knowing Michael Steele, this could be to announce that he bought a new suit."
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