With unemployment at Depression-era highs and public angst brewing over President Obama’s disastrous health reform, indeed the time is ripe for the Republican Party to step up its fundraising efforts and move to crush its opponents this November. Yet instead of capitalizing on this rising tide of discontent, the GOP finds itself mired in controversy about lavish spending on everything from limos to private aircraft. Why would a donor—any donor—entrust his/her funds to a political cause that burns through money like an AIG futures trader?
Is it fair that the freewheeling spending of some rogue few has affixed itself to Steele’s reputation? Probably not. But as the GOP chair, he is ultimately responsible for managing headquarters. When the party is consistently failing at its most important function, it suggests that Steele is failing to maintain internal controls.
Compounding the problem is Steele’s Obama complex. It's apparent to me he secretly wants to be the Republican Obama. He's offering hope alright...to the enemy. At a time when Democrats should be licking their wounds and praying for a miracle, Steele is their new rallying cry. The longer he stays the more Democrats believe they can keep their majorities. To quote my liberal friends, he's the poster child of what's wrong with Republicans -- they lack inspired leadership and can barely manage themselves, let alone a country.
So will the Party can him? Probably not. First, a two-thirds vote from the membership is required to oust the Republican. That means that Steele has until the Republican Winter meeting—in January 2011—to get his act together. Even then, members will be hesitant to vote out their first black party leader. For a group struggling to distance itself from its history of racial insensitivity, canning Steele could cause a racial imbroglio. At the very least, forcing him out would be a distraction when the Party should be capitalizing on the idea that Obama’s massive public spending is bankrupting the country.
I'm not calling for Michael Steele to resign...yet. Even Democrats don't want that, but for far different reasons. The truth is, he can't resign. Not now. In some twisted way, the Party needs Michael Steele, if anything just to bounce back and prove his opponents wrong; that he's not the village idiot many would have him to be. If past is prologue, that's asking a lot.
Perhaps the staff shakeup earlier last week was a step in the right direction. Given the absurdity of some of Steele’s public announcements, it couldn't hurt to bring in some seasoned professionals. But the root problem lies not with Steele’s staff—it is with Steele himself. Ousting the organization's chief of staff won't matter in the grand scheme. He wasn't running the RNC in the first place. I've said it before: the quickest way to return to "golden child" status is simply to win, baby. And win big. The chairman silenced his critics immediately following seismic gubernatorial victories in Virginia and New Jersey, up until the time where he nagged reporters for not giving him enough credit.
So the 4-step Steele recovery program begins today, and it starts with the following:
Go dark. Yes, the first step is admitting you have a problem. Chairman Steele has clearly become a lightning rod for the media and Democrats, no matter how good his talking points. So the party head should just turn off the television and stay away from the cameras. That frees him up for step #2:
Use his position for good. Remarkably, old guard leaders such as Newt Gingrich see the folly of intra-party fighting this close to November. So Steele should tap into those last vestiges of support and recruit these luminaries to help him do his most important job - raise money. Irrespective of the power Steele wields, he still holds authority, and he should use that authority to appeal to every party lieutenant for the good of the entire GOP cause - defeating government run amok. Even though he's weak, the movement is strong, and Steele would do well to leverage that.
Look down, not up. Similarly, Steele should appeal to his counterparts at the state and precinct levels, recognizing they have their own goals this close to Election Day. When they're winning, Steele's team is winning, allowing him to bank political capital he desperately needs. This also applies to his predecessors such as Mike Duncan and Ed Gillespie. They've already begun an impressive fundraising drive of their own, principally out of anxiety for Steele's missteps. Find a way to fold that effort back into the party apparatus.
Reach out to elected leaders. There's no love lost over the GOP chairman among House and Senate Republican leaders. But Steele can't do his job effectively unless and until he works to change that. Build credibility by starting with the governors. Yes, he may need to fly to Mississippi and break bread with Gov. Haley Barbour, but if that's the first move toward party detente, Steele must take it.
Once again, a Reagan axiom rings true - There's no limit to what a man can do if he doesn't mind who gets the credit. Michael Steele should have that quote tattooed on his hip-hop arm. His political future depends on it.