Steele’s slipping support

STEELE’S SLIPPING SUPPORT…. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele can probably take some comfort in the fact that Congress is in recess this week. If lawmakers were on the Hill, reporters would likely be asking them for their opinions on Steele’s latest foibles, and the responses would no doubt be less than kind.

That said, the RNC chair’s difficulties have not gone unnoticed by party leaders.

Republican leaders in Congress have moved to distance themselves from GOP national chairman Michael Steele, but that job will become more difficult as the spotlight on the midterm election intensifies.

A GOP lawmaker who requested anonymity said the Republican National Committee chairman’s relationship with House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is “not good at all.”

The legislator added, “Steele lacks a base of support. The donors, the activists will all drop him if they sense he might squander the electoral opportunity of the decade.”

As a rule, as a party is gearing up for a key election cycle, it’s less than ideal for the party’s elected leaders to “distance themselves” from the ostensible head of their political party.

What’s especially interesting is that the tensions between GOP leaders and Steele were bad before. An “insiders” poll conducted by National Journal asked prominent Republican players, “Is your national party chairman an asset or a liability?” More than seven in 10 Republicans considered Steele a liability — and the question was asked two weeks ago, before this week’s bondage-related unpleasantness.

Indeed, Boehner was asked a few weeks ago if the RNC chairman would play a role in shaping a new policy document like the Contract with America. Boehner replied, “No.”

I don’t want to overstate this. Boehner and McConnell can effectively ignore Steele for the rest of the year and nevertheless see GOP candidates do well in the midterms. Howard Dean didn’t always get along with Democratic leaders during his tenure, and the party excelled anyway.

The difference is, Steele is becoming an awkward distraction for the party, which is undermining fundraising efforts. What’s more, Steele doesn’t seem to be able to actually manage the RNC effectively, which can affect party performance whether the congressional leadership can work around him or not.