Why Michael Steele Must Stay
The GOP never wanted Steele in the first place. But they needed him—and they still do.
The GOP never wanted Steele in the first place. But they needed him—and they still do. Steele's conservative backers like to tout him as a Republican who "happens to be black." They couldn't be more wrong. Republicans need Steele because he's black. And that won't change any time soon.
Recently, I got a call from a Republican National Committee member from the Mid-Atlantic. She was worried that Michael Steele may be ousted from his RNC chairmanship before he ever gets started.
She told me that she had received repeated calls from concerned committee members in Georgia, Tennessee and some Midwest states about Steele’s foibles and fumbles that have been so conspicuously on display in the media over the past month. Just last week, he told a CNN reporter that his run-in with radio host Rush Limbaugh was part of a “strategic” plan on his part, and that he would consider running for president if God told him to. They want him out, the concerned woman told me. As a Steele supporter, she’s worried that they might get him.
I disagree. I’ve read the op-eds and heard the pundits predicting the demise of Michael Steele, and I’ve heard the rumors of Republican activists who think Steele is a disaster and want him gone. But I am here to tell you that Michael Steele is here to stay, regardless of what happens in this week’s special election in New York’s 20th Congressional District and despite the anticipated low-fundraising totals for the RNC expected this quarter.
Don’t get me wrong. I know there are plenty of problems. I was there when Steele won the RNC chairmanship, and in my opinion, the men and women who barely elected him—on the 6th ballot mind you—didn’t really want him there in the first place. Yet, the party seemed afraid not to elect either Blackwell or Steele as chairman in a so-called, post-racial Obama presidency world. And nothing Steele has done in the recent weeks has altered that calculus.
But, despite his foot-in-mouth disease of late, I have every confidence that Steele will assemble a good team at the RNC, hone his message back to the basic GOP principles of liberty, less government and less taxation and in doing so, deliver some impressive GOP gains in 2010 in the House and Senate. He may even quickly quiet the critics by winning back the governorships in Virginia and New Jersey this year.
The fact that conservatives, who make up about 30 to 40 percent of the core base of the party, want Steele out is no surprise. Katon Dawson was clearly their choice. But people rightly feared that electing a Southern business man who had been a member of an exclusive “ all- white” country club just months before he ran for RNC chair, would sound the wrong message at the wrong time. And Steele has done little to win them over, with his comments in GQ about abortion being “an individual choice” and his “hip-hop” outreach strategy designed to attract blacks and younger voters.
But the GOP needs Michael Steele. They know this, and they are stuck with him for better or worse—or at least through the end of his term in 2010.
Black conservative author Shelby Steele in his column in the Wall Street Journal wrote, “Without an appeal to minorities, conservatism is at risk of marginalization. The recent election revealed a Republican Party—largely white, male and Southern—seemingly on its way to becoming a "regional" party. Still, an appeal targeted just at minorities—reeking as it surely would of identity politics—is anathema to most conservatives.”
More damaging is that the party’s image problems stem not from an inability to broaden their reach, but from a choice not to do so.
So Michael Steele becomes the saving grace for the mainstream moderates and libertarians in the party (like me) and for those conservatives who “get it.” GOP insiders like to say that Michael Steele works well for Republicans because he is a fresh conservative GOP face who “happens to be black.” They have it wrong. The GOP needs Michael Steele because he is black and because he understands that he must speak for more than 30 percent of the party’s political base.
For the record, there are pro-choice Republicans. There are Republicans who support gay marriage. There are Republicans like me who support affirmative action policies. We are in the minority in the GOP, for sure, but if the party is going to survive and eventually thrive, it needs a leadership that acknowledges us. Republicans need Michael Steele. And, protests or not, they know it.
Sophia A. Nelson is a regular contributor to The Root.