Can Michael Steele recover from the latest scandal to hit the Republican National Committee? While critics have been calling for his ouster for more than a week, the chairman gave his first interview this morning to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos to say that he plans to stay put.
The interview was clearly meant as a fence-mending exercise. There was none of the usual joking and colorful witticisms that are Steele’s trademark. He also tried to further distance himself from the embarrassing Club Voyeur story by denying he had any knowledge of the affair, and confirming that he fired the appropriate staffer when he found out. But it wasn’t all spin. Unprompted, Steele reveled the unflattering statistic that 71 percent of GOP lawmakers don’t like him. Curious why, Stephanopoulos asked Steele if he's held to a different standard because of his race. “The honest answer is, 'yes,' " Steele said. "Barack Obama has a slimmer margin. A lot of folks do." Despite the critics, he vowed they wouldn’t have much to criticize after the polls closed on Election Day in November.
On that point, he’s right. Unfavorable headlines won’t matter much if the Republicans make significant gains in Congress and state governorships later this year. The best way to do that is through fundraising, a measure on which the RNC’s $11 million still lags behind Democrats’ chest of almost twice that amount—a shocking reversal from just two years ago. But if Steele can surmount the odds and win a sizable number of seats, the smudges on his record won’t just disappear, he’ll be seen as a genius.
Still, while that idea might carry him through his toughest days, it’s hard to argue that Steele’s job hasn’t gotten harder in recent weeks. Part of the reason is the bad press that he and his staff brought upon themselves. But after the passage of health care, the momentum appears to be swinging back toward Democrats, who signal that with their new package of health care reforms, they intend to play offense for the rest of the year. Steele argued that as long as morning news shows were focused on him, the RNC was losing time pinning Democrats to the mat. And that, really, is what the game is all about.