Posted by Brad @ 7:47 pm on January 30th 2009

Thoughts on Michael Steele (Roundup)

Marc Ambinder has an extended take that’s pretty good, if a bit faulting on the side of hopeful.

Steele’s election won’t help the party attrack black voters immediately, but if Steele sets the right tone, he could help the party compete for them in the (way) future. As GOP strategists have always known, and noted, somewhat dyspeptically, it’s white suburban voters, particularly women, who are responsive to a diversity message. The RNC isn’t diverse yet; only five black delegates were chosen to attend the national convention. Steele was disgusted by that. It prompted him to run.

Even more than race, even as Steele lauded the party’s conservative members, his election marks a step away from the balkanized Southern white ethos of the party. Steele, pro-life, has worked with moderate Republicans all of his life, although he did his best during the campaign to minimize those ties. If he reverts to form, it means that the RNC has just selected a chairman who will not prioritize social issues above economic issues. When people speak of broadening the party’s geographic diversity, they are speaking in code. They mean that the party needs to welcome more moderates; needs to be more forgiving of departures from orthodoxy; need to be less antagonistic to pro-choicers and gays.

Dailykos, decidedly less bullish:

In fact, Steele’s 2006 campaign (when he trumpeted the support of “Steele Democrats”, of whom there appeared to be about seven), reveals the biggest weakness for Steele – he’s a political cipher, who represents change for the GOP only on the most superficial of levels.

His narrow victory indicates the serious rift within the GOP between those who desire some kind of nebulous change from recent failures (the Steele option), and those who want to keep doing things the same way (the Dawson option).

Of course, that Steele won, albeit narrowly, ought to at least say something favorable.

Andy McCarthy thinks Steele’s spin is made of anything but (but is incoherently hopeful):

I like Michael Steele — he’s one of those charismatic guys who’d be impossible not to like if you were trying not to like him. I’ve only met him a couple of times, but one was in a green room where we both found ourselves with an hour to kill. After five minutes I felt like I’d known him forever … and after 10 minutes, I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t already a governor. I’ve also listened to what he’s said about the leadership position he once held in the moderate Republican Leadership Council, and it makes sense to me. He’s a conservative, he’s usually very effective — especially on TV — and that will be refreshing.

BUT (you knew there was a “but” coming, right?), as I discuss at the end of my article today about the Republicans’ craven showing on President Obama’s cabinet selections, I think Steele was (is) perilously wrong on AG nominee Eric Holder — and was flat incoherent when I heard him describing his reasoning last Friday…

Of course, the Democrats now have the votes to push anything they want through, so by Michael’s logic they should never be fought on anything until they already have it. There seem to be many Republicans (especially in the Senate) who believe this[…]

My hunch is that Michael Steele knows this. I prefer to think that what happened on Holder is that Steele foolishly got out in front before he knew all the facts — that if Steele hadn’t taken the first misstep he’d have gotten the later steps right, and that it’s an error he won’t soon make again.

If I’m wrong about that, then the GOP is in big trouble because its leadership has to start embracing these important battles, not ducking them. There’s a reason Duke and Georgetown schedule a basketball game against each other early in the season instead of padding their records by scheduling non-conference teams they can beat by 50 points: They need to be tournament-tough when the tournament gets here.

The GOP needs a leader who can be tournament-tough right now. I wish Michael Steele well — he’s a good guy and he certainly has the gifts to be what the party desperately needs.

National Review hopes he has more than tokenism and lukewarm TV charisma going for him:

There is a sense in the room that Blackwell’s endorsement was a key moment in the competition—and with the nation’s euphoric response to the inauguration of its first African-American president, Blackwell didn’t need to mention race. Everyone in the room understood that angle, and moved beyond it to the qualifications of the remaining candidates.

One who preferred Dawson noted that by the time it got down to the two, it was no longer a contest between two men; it was a contest between an African-American, who had been endorsed by the other African-American in the contest, calling for the GOP to remain “the party of Lincoln,” against the guy whose membership in a country club ensured that his name would always appear in the same sentence as “whites-only charter.” While no member would ever want to say that race was a factor, everyone knew the shorthand message that would be transmitted by a hostile media, eager to paint Republican leaders as hostile to minorities, if Dawson won on the final ballot.

What will Republicans be getting in Steele? Maybe the ideal television presence, a dynamic and energetic speaker who cheerfully brings a Republican message to communities that aren’t always initially receptive. The contrast with Duncan’s seemingly invisible media presence will be clear. But Steele’s bid was hindered by questions about whether he would excel as much at the parts of the job that aren’t in front of the cameras—the day-to-day management and fundraising.

In the coming year, Republicans will learn one way or the other.


Congratulations to Michael Steele on his victory in the hotly contested race for Chairman of the Republican National Committee. The former Maryland Lieutenant Governor was not our first choice for this spot, given our concern that he was not the most conservative choice in the race. But he is an eloquent and persuasive spokesman for the party and an impressive man, and we wish him well.

The Republican Party needs to do two contradictory things in the years to come: return to the party’s conservative roots and sell the party’s message to voters who are not base conservatives. Chairman Steele has promised an aggressive outreach to do the latter; we urge him, in that effort, not to neglect the former. We can’t sell a message based on our principles if we don’t have principles.

Interesting comment section at Hot Air.

Most other people seem to just be watching.


  1. I think for myself, and I think it is pretty cool.

    Comment by James — 1/31/2009 @ 10:21 pm

  2. I can read, and I’m pretty ambivalent.

    I posted my own thoughts in the original thread. But I think the two schools of thought on this from within Republican circles is interesting, though not quite as mutually exclusive as one might think at first blush.

    Clearly, some feel that just having a black guy that does well on TV in charge is enough to present a “new face” of the party. Clearly also, there is a significant contingent who desires nothing more than aggression seemingly for the sake of it, and want to find the person most offensive to liberals possible for any given position (a lot of Republican talk of Kristol’s replacement at the NYT can be filed into that category as well). It was interesting to see those sides square off in the reax posts.

    For those thinking deeper, I think there is a good case to be made that Steele was the least offensive of the bunch, but I also mistrust the seemingly inherent disinterest in ideological or organizational development as a talking point, one way or the other.

    Comment by Brad — 2/1/2009 @ 1:03 am

  3. The problem with the analysis in those quotes (other than the Ambinder one) is that they say more about their source than about Steele. Which is interesting in itself, of course.

    Comment by Adam — 2/1/2009 @ 8:21 am

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