Michael Steele Faces Backlash from GOP

michael steele
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele Getty Images

In the wake of Michael Steele's Monday night announcement that, after much speculation to the contrary, he will be seeking re-election to chair the Republican National Committee (RNC), a number of influential party leaders made it clear that they would be actively seeking an alternative.

"We admire his pluck, but not his judgment. It's time for someone else to run the RNC," read a Wednesday editorial in the conservative-leaning magazine National Review.

Steele, whose two-year tenure heading the RNC was plagued not only by a series of gaffes, missteps and embarrassments, but also financial mismanagement and fundraising shortages, kept a relatively low profile in the weeks leading up to his announcement - despite mounting GOP pressure for him to bow out of the race for a second term.

Now that Steele has announced his candidacy for the job, however, the Republican message has become more overt: "My own slogan is now, Anybody But Steele," said former RNC finance chairman and GOP donor Al Hoffman in a recent interview with Politico, reflecting popular sentiment among many party leaders.

"The donor community has virtually no faith or confidence in Michael Steele's to be the keeper of the keys," Hoffman continued. "The long and short of it is I have a hard time finding any major donor who would trust him to straighten out the RNC and run a principled and ethical fundraising operation."

Tom Fetzer, chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, told the New York Times that Steele was responsible for making the RNC "irrelevant" in 2010, and that any future chairman would have a lot of ground to make up in terms of restoring good faith in the committee's abilities.

"One of Michael Steele's legacies is that he made the RNC largely irrelevant in the 2010 election cycle," Fetzer said. "The next chairman is going to have to work really hard to restore the committee to relevancy and fix the financial disaster that Michael Steele has left in his wake."

A handful of Republicans have already volunteered to do just that: Reince Priebus, chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party (and, notably, a one-time friend and ally of Steele), has thrown his hat into the ring for the chairmanship -- apparently at the behest of GOP urging. And while Priebus has yet to target Steele directly in his campaign, his recent comments don't shy away from slamming the RNC's recent fundraising record.

"The RNC cannot misfire on fund-raising again and hope someone else will do the job for us," Priebus told the Times. "We cannot run the risk of a second term of President Obama and his liberal companions with a weakened RNC."

Gentry Collins, a former top aide to commmittee and another contender for the job, has made no secret of his disdain for Steele's tactics: Upon resigning from the RNC in November, Collins released a four-page letter blasting the committee's ineffectiveness.

"During the 2010 election cycle, the RNC allowed its major donor base to wither," Collins wrote, pointing out that the committee not only "raised far less money" than in previous years, but also that it had "spent a far higher percentage of those fewer dollars to raise what it did."

Steele's perceived lack of financial discipline, as well as what some have seen as questionable ethical behavior, extends beyond party leadership and big-time GOP donors: The National Review's public condemnation of Steele signals a backlash among some mainstream conservative-leaning media outlets as well.

"His engaging manner on television was one of his attractions as a chairman two years ago," the Review editors wrote. "It quickly went sour. Steele doesn't have the discipline of a party operative. Whether it was lashing out at Rush Limbaugh or calling Afghanistan 'a war of Obama's choosing,' his gaffes distracted from the work at hand."

"Meanwhile, the $20,000-apiece corporate speeches, the Regnery book, and the accompanying media plugs all gave Steele, fairly or not, the whiff of the political profiteer," the editorial continued.

Nevertheless, the New York Times reports that Steele is believed to have the support of 40 of the committee's 168 members - less than half of what he needs to win, but seemingly more than any of his opponents.

"This new political environment included challenges like President Obama's stimulus package, a Democrat-controlled Congress, a bogus reform of our nation's health care system, a recession, a demoralized American public, and unfair federal election laws," Steele said in a Dec. 13 conference call to RNC committee members announcing his bid for re-election. "However, I hope each of you appreciate that while we began this cycle bowed, we ended stronger, better and prouder."

Lucy Madison
Lucy Madison is a political reporter for CBSNews.com. You can read more of her posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.