The Incredible, Unbendable Michael Steele

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GOP National Committee Chair Michael Steele Joe Giblin / AP

Returning to the office after a long weekend is never easy. But that may be an understatement for Michael Steele. It was last week when the GOP chairman was caught on tape at a fundraiser claiming that the U.S. efforts in Afghanistan were "a war of Obama's choice," effectively countering the platform of the party he's paid to lead. Within hours, top conservatives were calling for his resignation. Asked about it on Sunday's This Week, Sen. John McCain said that Steele would "have to assess as to whether he can still lead the Republican Party." Steele reportedly spent the weekend working the phones trying to save his job.

It would be a blip on the radar if it was Steele's first flub. Pundits would make confused faces, Democrats would make rain and Republicans would make sure it never happened again. But it wasn't. The embattled chairman's record includes an impressive ability to offend just about everyone. Early in his tenure, he called conservative battle crier Rush Limbaugh's rhetoric "ugly" and "incendiary," before being publicly forced to grovel for forgiveness. When President Obama's stimulus came up for a vote, he threatened to withhold any RNC funding for senators who voted "yes," to which several replied "you can't be serious." (He realized that he wasn't.) Not long after, Steele told a GQ interviewer, counter to most of his party, that abortion was "an individual choice." And he further irked his party's leaders by flatly admitting that he didn't think his party was ready to retake Congress this year—essentially refuting the GOP's bumper sticker slogan for the year.

Then there were the racial run-ins. Speaking about Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (who is Indian-American), Steele unfortunately claimed that he wanted to give Jindal some "slum love." In an appearance on Fox News, he also used the phrase "Honest Injun," which rattled the American Indian community. And then there were the episodes one might file with the ethics department. A leaked fundraising presentation showed the committee planned to use "fear" of Obama and Nancy Pelosi to grease donors. Several months later, investigative reporters found the RNC used donor money to entertain young Republicans at a bondage-themed strip club in Hollywood.

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It's enough to make one wonder: how does this guy still have a job?

Because, simply, he can't be fired—or at least he can't be fired simply. RNC rules require a two-thirds vote of all committee members to remove a sitting chairman. Finding two-thirds of top Republicans to agree on anything specific, much less a plan to reshape their party four months before a potentially lucrative election, is extraordinarily difficult. Steele's Afghanistan comments aren't helpful, but he would likely have to commit a serious offense, bordering on a crime, for such a change to occur.

So for now, it's likely Steele will keep on keeping on. His rounds of apologies to top GOP leaders will continue, but they don't matter much because his job security comes not from party approval, but from the calendar. With Republicans focused on November, the true test of Steele will be how close the GOP comes to taking back the House or Senate.

Although no matter how well Republicans fare, come next spring when Steele's term is up, odds are he'll be dusting off his resume anyway.

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