As the GOP wrapped up its annual winter meeting in Obama’s birthplace this weekend, Chairman Michael Steele had all the bluster of a man on top of the world. When asked by reporters visiting the Hawaiian tropics for the GOP gathering if he plans to run for re-election in 2011, he shot back: "I have no reason not to."
I know that’s right! Because while the GOP rank-and-file thought Michael Steele was imploding in a series of when-keeping-it-real-goes-wrong racial and political gaffes, his party was quietly staging the biggest political upset, since well, Barack Obama. The GOP has been steady snatching governor races in New Jersey and Virginia, and ending the Kennedy reign in Massachusetts to boot. BOO-yow!
Because Chairman Steele was conspicuously absent from the Massachusetts Senate race and publicly announced that the GOP did not have a chance in hell of regaining the House, folks thought he was retreating. Ha! As Steele pointed out to the party in an e-mail, all along, he was really just “staying out of the limelight” and pulling strings behind the scenes. If you must know, he provided Brown’s campaign with 400 phone lines. He put 160 volunteers on buses. He even sent out 228,000 e-mails, for goodness’ sake.
Turns out that if he was in the limelight, it was only to shove the old banana in the tailpipe of the national press. To political reporters, the political upset that was brewing in Massachusetts was no match for “The Michael Steele Show”:
Episode 1: Michael Steele tells Roland Martin that white Republicans are scared of him.
Episode 2: Michael Steele insults indigenous Americans by casually tossing out the term “Honest Injun.”
Episode 3: Michael Steele calls for Sen. Harry Reid to step down for pointing out that some Negroes are lighter than others and that some know how to code switch, too.
Episode 4: Michael Steele mocks his blackness in photos with white GOP interns.
Episode 5: Michael Steele tells members of the GOP to “shut up” and “get with the program.”
What looked like a meltdown is really called managing expectations. And it actually was quite genius.
So what does the GOP’s fearless leader get in return? From as far back as November, there were grumblings and outright hostility from the Republican base—at least as defined by Michelle Malkin’s readers. The Washington Times reported that GOP donors said they were bailing because they are “disillusioned” with Steele. An activist called Ryan Booth started a Web site devoted to taking him down, Dump Steele.
And even as last week’s Hawaii soiree was getting started, some were considering a resolution rebuking Steele for having the nerve to publish and promote a book without permission from “GOP leaders.” Never mind that, as Steele had to remind Fox News in an interview, he is the GOP leader.
“That's not saying I'm some loose cannon and wild, you know, dog out here running around not being able to be controlled," Steele helpfully pointed out. He also told Fox that the book was actually supposed to come out much sooner, but since Sarah Palin’s book was doing so well he waited his turn. Like a true gentleman.
We all know the brown-noser at work who kisses up to the powers that be, not knowing or caring how much they are participating in their own oppression. Fueled by vanity, delusions of grandeur and plain old raw ambition, they manage to claw their way up to the top. (At melanin-challenged places like the GOP, the lines are shorter.)
Once they get there, they have a choice to make. Will they use their power for good? For a while that’s what I thought was happening with our Michael Steele. Anyone throwing this much chaos and ineptitude into the GOP is the very definition of a progressive. Move On should be giving him donations.
But then Sen. Centerfold is elected, and I’m wondering, is this fool crazy like a fox? And I can’t help but revel in the delicious irony that the GOP has found itself in. The party’s recent boost means it can’t really fire him. But they can’t control him, either. Didn’t he know he was supposed to sit like a good boy, and do as he is told? As Gene Robinson pointed out, a good figurehead is so hard to find.
"My style is not something you get used to very easily," Steele told reporters in Hawaii this week, as he bragged about the GOP's electoral victories on his watch.
“As much as a lot of you folks may find me fascinating to write about and to opine on and to theorize and to put out there as some example [of] God, I don't know what. But at the end of the day, it's not about me . . . . This is about the Republican Party."
Exactly. And now the Republican Party needs to stop hating and give the man his due.
Natalie Hopkinson is The Root’s media and culture critic. Follow her on Twitter.
Natalie Hopkinson is a Washington, D.C.-based author whose current projects deal with the arts, gender and public life. She is the author of Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City. Follow her on Twitter.