WASHINGTON - Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele is in trouble again, and at a time when the GOP is riding higher in the polls and poised to make major gains in governorships and Congress in November.
His troubles stem in large part from his weakness as the chief executive of the party's largest campaign organization that usually plays its biggest and most pivotal role in presidential election cycles. He's done a poor job of picking top talent to handle the nuts and bolts work of managing the RNC's vast organizational force efficiently and effectively.
As the party's most visible salesman, Steele has, according to many state chairmen, done an effective job of selling the GOP's message, leaving the hands-on work of managing the RNC to others. However, that's partly what got him into trouble.
At first, grumblings from a small number of RNC committee members about his new book and some paid speeches he gave to trade organizations and other non-party groups didn't amount to much at the RNC's winter meeting in Hawaii, and Steele was able to overcome the grousing with ease.
But then came the fateful decision by an RNC functionary to approve a $1,900 bill for a party for younger donors at a West Hollywood nightclub that featured exotic, topless dancers. It has been a huge embarrassment for the party as well as Steele, who did not attend the party and presumably knew nothing about the RNC payment.
When the smoke cleared from the media explosion, Steele fired the lower-level functionary and also demanded the resignation of his chief of staff, Ken McKay. But the damage was done and some party leaders are now wondering if Steele can and should keep his job.
Effective executives put the right people and fail-safe procedures in place to make sure that a mistake like this does not happen, and obviously that has not been done on Steele's watch. He has taken corrective action quickly, but the question remains whether it is enough and if he can put this behind him and go on to do what he does best: help sell the party to a divided electorate and raise money for the GOP's campaigns to come.
One of the major criticisms of Steele's chairmanship has been about fundraising and how that money has been spent, and to some degree the criticism has been unfair.