CAN STEELE HANG ON (AGAIN)?…. Since becoming chairman of the Republican National Committee early last year, Michael Steele’s entire tenure has been marked by a series of self-inflicted wounds. The man’s propensity for humiliating gaffes and bizarre decisions has made him arguably the highest-profile RNC chief ever — but not in a good way.
Yesterday’s controversy over his remarks on the war in Afghanistan challenged Steele in a new way, and as of this morning, it’s unclear just how strong his hold on the chairmanship really is.
Over the course of the afternoon, a reasonably influential group of Republicans called on Steele to resign — it started with Bill Kristol, who was soon followed by Erick Erickson and former South Carolina GOP chair and Steele rival Katon Dawson. Last night, Liz Cheney joined the chorus.
But you’ll notice that this group doesn’t include any Republicans in positions of authority. Indeed, RNC members seemed inclined not to say much of anything yesterday.
Steele has survived all previous threats to his chairmanship — ranging from his numerous controversial comments to the RNC’s spending of $2,000 at a bondage-themed nightclub — and few members of the committee contacted by POLITICO were willing to comment publicly on Steele or offer any criticism of his comments.
For Steele, that’s a good sign. He’d no doubt prefer to hear party officials sticking up for him, but under the circumstances, silence is about the best he can hope for.
The timing of the mess ended up cutting both ways for the RNC chairman. On the one hand, the party hoped to spend the day talking about the disheartening monthly job numbers, and Steele’s latest screw-up made that largely impossible. The controversy stepped all over the party’s planned offensive, making Republicans even more frustrated and making Steele that much less popular with his party.
On the other hand, as Brian Beutler noted, Steele benefited from the fact that “the footage surfaced on a Friday before a holiday weekend with many of Washington’s biggest newsmakers out of town or unavailable for comment.” As a practical matter, this helped Steele survive the day.
He’s not out of the woods yet — pay particular attention to what GOP lawmakers say on the Sunday shows tomorrow — but to the delight of Democrats, Steele has managed to hang on this long, and he might manage to survive this, too.