Even though the 2008 presidential campaign is in full swing, I have not heard a lot of talk about who the most likely vice presidential candidates will be. So far that talk has been largely limited to discussion of the second (and third) tier presidential hopefuls who have been getting exposure through the debates. I expect my favorite though, Michael Steele, will be getting plenty of VP buzz as the election nears.
Since February of this year, Steele has served as chairman of GOPAC. Among other things he was an attorney, founder of a business and legal consulting firm, and Chairman of the Maryland Republican Party before serving as Lieutenant Governor of Maryland beginning in January 2003. In 2006, he was the Republican nominee for United States Senate in Maryland.
I have been a big Steele fan for several years now. On election night 2006 I knew Republicans would be taking some big losses, but was hopeful that Steele would win the Maryland Senate race. Steele’s loss in that race was the toughest of the night for me. The fact that he was competitive in an overwhelmingly Democratic state was impressive, which made the loss in some ways even harder. Although he did not win the race, Steele ran an excellent campaign, which included some amazing ads. His performance in the debates was impressive, as well. During the course of that campaign Steele showed himself to be a star on the national stage.
The Republican candidates for President and Vice President in 2008 need to be excellent communicators. One of the biggest failings of the Bush presidency has been the inability to effectively communicate. Michael Steele is one of the best communicators the Republican party has today. Not only did I see that in his innovative television advertisements and campaign appearances, but in a speech I watched him give in North Carolina recently.
In April I attended the Civitas Institute's Conservative Leadership Conference and heard some excellent speakers, including presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani. No one, however, was any more impressive than Michael Steele. In the speech he talked about the opportunity he found in the Republican party. He was funny and energetic and got a wildly enthusiastic response.
Steele came from a family of Democrats, but was attracted to the Republican party. He once said "I grew up in an FDR-JFK-LBJ household and I was a Democrat for maybe 15 minutes. The first election that I could vote in was 1976. I was impressed by the peanut farmer from Georgia, but even more impressed by Ronald Reagan. He had the same values as my mother. It just clicked with me." That makes him more qualified than most to explain to others what the party can offer them.
Most impressive to me was the optimistic way Steele described conservatism. He also used humor to good advantage, telling a joke that illustrated his belief that the Republican party offers opportunity, while the Democrats offer only hope. He gave an amusing illustration with the joke about a conservative and a liberal walking down the street and coming upon a homeless man. He said the conservative handed him his business card and invited him to come to his office to talk about a job, then he handed him twenty dollars. The liberal, not wanting to be outdone, pointed the man to the nearest welfare office and then handed him fifty dollars -- from the conservative's pocket.
If I had any doubt, that speech convinced me that Steele is as excellent a communicator in person as he is on television. Scott Elliott of Election Projection.com watched the speech with me and later wrote that Steele would be an excellent president. I won’t say Steele is “articulate” because evidently you are not allowed to use that word to describe a black person without being branded a racist, but he is an incredibly powerful speaker. I guess I forgot to mention earlier that he also happens to be a black Republican.
Dick Morris believes Hillary Clinton has a good chance of winning the presidency even though her poll numbers can’t seem to break the 50 percent mark and she has high negatives among likely voters. Morris says that traditional polls don’t matter as much in her case because the fact that she is a woman means that many of those who do not usually bother to vote will turn out to vote for the first woman president.
I expect the same will be the case when it comes to a black candidate for president or vice president. Steele increased the percentage of black voters pulling the Republican lever in Maryland in 2006. I have no doubt he would do the same nationwide. What I love about Steele though is that he does not run as an “identity politics” candidate.
During his Senate run, Steele was asked if being African-American, Republican, Catholic, and pro-life put him into a box. He answered, “It puts me in the mainstream of America, baby. What you just laid out is one way to describe Michael Steele. The other way to describe him is he's a brother who cares about the working man and woman. As an African-American, I think it's time that we respect the fact that there is a wide range of opinion and diversity of thought.”
In response to a question about whether or not conservatism has appeal in the black community, he said, “Everyone will tell you, at least off the record, that the majority of African-Americans are conservative. They’re God-fearing, church-going conservatives when it comes to a host of issues. I get sick and tired of seeing people trying to pejoratively put us in a box and say we all think and feel and believe the same thing, the same way. Black leadership is very different from everyday black folks — trust me.”
One last point for those who are still not convinced that Steele would be an amazing addition to a presidential ticket -- he is young and tall and good looking. Those things probably shouldn’t matter, but we all know they do.
Michael Steele is a proud conservative Republican who not only knows why he believes what he does, but he knows how to explain it to others in such a way that it makes sense. If that is not what is needed in the Republican party today, I don’t know what is.