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Steele Trap: Chairman Hijacks GOP for Ego Trip

Posted on January 12 2010 10:56 am
David Forsmark is the owner and president of Winning Strategies, a full service political consulting firm in Michigan. David has been a regular columnist for Frontpage Magazine since 2006. For 20 years before that, he wrote book, movie and concert reviews as a stringer for the Flint Journal, a midsize daily newspaper.
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A national party Chair is supposed to be the ultimate insider.  The chief fundraiser, the organization builder– the one who builds the foundation so that others—mainly candidates– can concentrate on the visible things that attract voters.   Any political party where candidates are not the main focus, will stay in the basement.

The Republican National Chairman, Michael Steele has been doing the exact opposite.  For the past few weeks, for the national GOP, it has been all Michael Steele, all the time.

You might argue that it’s not his fault.  Leaks from unhappy staffers have given the liberal media a story to focus on to take attention away from the Democrats’ electoral woes. That’s probably a factor.  But so far, Michael Steele’s response to the small fires the media is creating has been to pour gasoline on them.

Most of the attention from his appearance on this week’s Fox News Sunday has been on his lame attempt to compare Trent Lott and Harry Reid when it comes to racially controversial remarks.  But for those of us who work in politics on the ground, Steele made a statement in defense of his chairmanship that illustrated his ego is out of control:

STEELE:  I won two governors’ races. I won 27 out of 37 special elections last year.

No, Michael, you can say REPUBLICANS won that many.  It would be better to say “Republican candidates won…” but you were not on any ballot, YOU didn’t win Jack.

In fact, one of the races Steele undoubtedly is counting was a State Senate race in Michigan where Republican Mike Nofs slaughtered his Democrat opponent in what was considered a swing seat.  The Michigan Republican Party did a good job, as did the Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, in focusing state Republicans on winning this seat.  The RNC was NOT a factor.

In 20 years of political consulting, and helping to one degree or another at least 200 candidates, I have never “won” a race.  Candidates win races.  It may be true that Michael Jordan needed the right coach to win 6 titles in a row, but Phil Jackson could never win a title with a team built around Gilbert Arenas. Patriots coach Bill Belichick made a genius move to bench “franchise quarterback” Drew Bledsoe in favor of 6th round draft pick Tom Brady; but there are no Super Bowls without Tom Brady.

I’m often asked by prospective candidates, “What’s your batting average?”  My answer is, “Don’t hire anyone who can—or will—answer that question.”  The reason?  First, any consultant worried about his batting average is only taking sure things and picking winners, not helping the person he thinks is best for the job.

But the primary reason is this:  The consultant or party leader is not up to the plate, the candidate is. Despite the fact that I create the commercials and mailings, direct the message, do the polling, and have a hand in the vast majority of what the public sees from a candidate; it is not my name on the ballot.  It is not my reputation on the line.  It is the candidate’s and their hard work and ability to attract voters is ultimately decisive.

And the consultant has a LOT more to do with the outcome than the national party chair.  Most of the time, national and state parties “help” comes with such a heavy hand that it’s a problem, not a help.

In political circles, ambitious functionaries trying to get a leg up, often say, “I won” this or that successful race. They generally say, “I worked on” this or that unsuccessful race. It’s disconcerting to see the man at the top adopt the language of an ambitious 20-something.

And that is the real problem with Michael Steele having a book on the market.  Not that it took time away from his duties or that he’s cashing in on his position (or his lame explanation that he wrote it in 2008.)

The problem is that the book gives Steele a monetary incentive to stay in the news where he doesn’t belong—as Chris Wallace illustrated with this exchange:

WALLACE: And then on Thursday you had this to say to your critics:


STEELE: I’ve had enough of it. If you don’t want me in the job, fire me. But until then, shut up. Get with the program, or get out of the way.


WALLACE: What a lot of Republicans are saying is you’re a loose canon, and that at a time when the Democrats are having a lot of problems – – we haven’t even gotten to the two retirements this week — that there’s too much focus on you.

STEELE: No, there is too much focus on me, because that’s what Washington wants to focus on. But when I’m out in the country they’re focused on what’s happening in Washington, as a matter of fact.

The bottom line is I’m very passionate about what I do. I’m very passionate about winning. I’m very passionate about defeating an agenda that is stripping away the ability of families to grow and businesses to prosper. I’m very passionate.

Michael Steele may not be a media genius, but there is NO way this was designed to stop the controversy at the Republican National Committee.

The national party chair is supposed to raise money, not make money.  He’s supposed to build the party and direct attention to candidates, not be the focus of the public.

Michael Steele seems to be proving himself inept at both the things he should be doing, and the things he wants to do.

Even Howard Dean kept his ego more in check than Michael Steele.

Luckily, while there is only so much a party chair can do to win races, there is only so much damage he can do, also. No matter what Michael Steele does or does not do, the Republican Party’s future comes down to the quality of the candidates it fields and the message they convey.

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