Has Steele finally gone too far for the GOP?

HAS STEELE FINALLY GONE TOO FAR FOR THE GOP?…. RNC Chairman Michael Steele has plenty of experience with humiliating mistakes. I was tempted to put together some links with some of his “greatest hits,” but quickly discovered there are so many from just the last 17 months, it would have taken me the rest of the day.

So as the controversy builds over Steele’s remarks on the war in Afghanistan, it’s not as if the RNC chief is on unfamiliar ground — he’s faced pressure like this before. Given the frequency with which Steele embarrasses himself, there’s very likely a folder in the RNC communications department labeled, “Game plan for the next time the Chairman screws up.”

But in the case of criticizing the war in Afghanistan, the game plan might need some revising.

RNC spokesperson Doug Heye tried to help Steele soon after the story started breaking, but the “clarification” didn’t make a lick of sense, and seemed oddly detached from what the party leader actually said. Demonstrating just how serious a situation this is for Steele, the RNC chairman issued another statement this afternoon.

“During the 2008 Presidential campaign, Barack Obama made clear his belief that we should not fight in Iraq, but instead concentrate on Afghanistan. Now, as President, he has indeed shifted his focus to this region. That means this is his strategy. And, for the sake of the security of the free world, our country must give our troops the support necessary to win this war.

“As we have learned throughout history, winning a war in Afghanistan is a difficult task. We must also remember that after the tragedy of September 11, 2001, it is also a necessary one. That is why I supported the decision to increase our troop force and, like the entire United States Senate, I support General Petraeus’ confirmation. The stakes are too high for us to accept anything but success in Afghanistan.”

This might be more persuasive if, just yesterday, Steele hadn’t told a room full of Republicans that he believes something very different. Indeed, Steele’s message yesterday was pretty much the opposite of the sentiment in this attempted walk-back.

Also note, Steele didn’t apologize in his statement, or even express regret.

What arguably matters most now is the limits of tolerance for Steele within the Republican Party. Right now, the landscape is unclear — Bill Kristol and Erick Erickson have called for his ouster, and a GOP operative told Brian Beutler. “This is the height of stupidity and epitomizes the problem that is Michael Steele.”

But, at least for now, no members of Congress have called on Steele to resign, and RNC members haven’t weighed in.

I’ve expected Steele’s ouster before, only to be proven wrong, so I’ll avoid any predictions on this one. I will say, however, that the RNC chairman has never faced the wrath of the pro-war/neo-con contingent of the party before, and if that doesn’t make him nervous, it should.