RNC in the Tank for Romney? Or Michael Steele’s Sour Grapes?

I’ll start this out by saying I have been unenthused by the field of Republican presidential candidates this cycle. I really wasn’t that thrilled by any of the names that didn’t get in and I wasn’t thrilled with the people who did get in. I did hold out hope for Rick Perry when he was talking about getting in, but, just like Fred Thompson in 2008, his performance when he did run was disappointing. One other disclaimer before I get into the meat of this post: I did vote for Rick Santorum in the Maryland primary – which was largely still an irrelevant primary despite the fact that things were much less certain going into it than they usually are.

Steele’s Sour Grapes?

All of this relates to a Politico story today titled Critics say RNC was in tank for Mitt Romney (Click here for the whole article on one page.)

Here’s what Michael Steele had to say:

“The chatter is that the fix is in, and that’s created a great deal of consternation,” said Michael Steele, Priebus’s predecessor as RNC chairman.

Steele said he’s been approached “very quietly” by about ten of the RNC’s elected members expressed misgivings “about the influence that the Romney campaign seems to have in dictating the terms of what the RNC is going to do and how it is going to follow the rules.”

The RNC’s response:

The RNC defended its neutrality in the race, with spokesman Sean Spicer explaining “we followed the rules exactly as laid out” and questioning Steele’s credibility to comment on RNC affairs given “the state of disaster Mr. Steele left the RNC in.”


More on the complaints

Here are the list of complaints about the RNC the article lays out:

Critics, including supporters of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich and even neutral Republicans, argue that the national party took steps that helped tilt the contest toward Mitt Romney — an allegation that the RNC rejects but is taking very seriously.

The list of specific grievances ranges from issues that even the party acknowledges are legitimate, to those that they dismiss as desperate fixations from Romney’s flailing rivals.

For example, the committee agrees that some states that went for Romney jumped the line in the primary schedule, a violation of party rules. But RNC defenders shrug off other complaints, like that they undercut Santorum and Gingrich by formatting a delegate tracking list to pad Romney’s tally, by forming a fundraising alliance this week with Romney and by highlighting a rule that would block an unlikely path to the nomination for Gingrich.

And it’s possible they’ll be other clashes in the coming weeks, with the RNC signaling Thursday its opposition to a push by Santorum backers in Texas to alter the rules surrounding that state’s May 29 primary to help the former Pennsylvania Senator.

Doubts the RNC is playing favorites

However, the story points out that RNC members reject this and that some of the critics also have good things to say about the RNC:

The handful of 168 members interviewed for this story all rejected the idea that there was a concerted effort to favor Romney – and one even emailed the next day after talking with Spicer to more assertively defend the RNC.

[...]

“I would like to discourage the public from believing that there’s been monkey business going on that’s giving Mitt Romney any kind of an advantage,” said Phyllis Woods, an RNC committeewoman from New Hampshire. Woods, who didn’t endorse in her state’s first-in-the-nation primary, said she’s “concerned that there may be some perception that the RNC or maybe even some state parties anoint candidates.”

But she asserted that’s not the RNC’s fault. “It’s just part of the culture right now that there is a mistrust of the establishment.”

[...]

After being contacted by Spicer about this story and asked to respond to grumbling about the joint fundraising arrangement, Gingrich campaign spokesman R.C. Hammond called POLITICO to say “we did get approached a couple months ago about that. And if our campaign was at a different point, we might have taken advantage of that.” Hammond said Gingrich doesn’t intend to participate in a joint committee, but he added that generally “Reince has been very good to Newt and has been fair.”

Steele’s disastrous political career

I liked Steele before I moved to Maryland in 2006 and I still think he’s probably a nice guy from what I’ve seen of him. However, when I got here in the middle of 2006, it was obvious that he was going to lose big in the Senate race and my opinions of his political acumen just went downhill from there.

Richard Cross (via Inside Charm City) summed it up nicely about Steele over a year ago:

I had a lot of optimism when Steele became RNC chairman. Having observed him in close quarters in the State House as Lieutenant Governor, I thought he was gregarious, charismatic, and polished. He also delivered a consistently cogent message to audiences even more effectively than did Governor Ehrlich, for whom message discipline was a constant challenge. I thought these skills would serve Steele well while stumping for GOP candidates, appearing on the Sunday morning news shows, and performing the other routine activities one expects from a national party chairman.

But Steele became enamored of the celebrity of his new position shortly after winning it. This led him to grant a series of wide-ranging “Who is Michael Steele” interviews to the non-political press, sometimes producing the kinds of gaffes which came to define his RNC tenure.

Unless you’re a political junkie like me, you have no business knowing or caring who chairs either major party.

Some of the gaffes Cross referred to above:

Steele is, of course, a big, inviting target. And fair game. There may also be a sense that he could unravel if pressed. He is sometimes careless with facts — at Salisbury State, he told students concerned with rising tuition that he had gone to college “in the days of 25 percent inflation” (it actually ranged between 6.5 percent and 13.6 percent during his college years at Johns Hopkins, from 1977 to 1981) — and he has a tendency to gravitate toward the kind of rhetorical minefields that more practiced public figures avoid. After speaking to a Jewish group in Baltimore last month, he had to apologize for seeming to draw a parallel between embryonic-stem-cell research and Nazi-era human experimentation. Two weeks later, at the tea shop in Prince George’s County, he spoke about how black people do not always support black-owned businesses. “You know how it goes,” he said. “Six months and it’s gone. What happened to the chicken joint? The Chinese are now serving us chicken.”

He seemed to catch himself heading into dangerous territory. “Nothing against the Chinese,” he quickly added.

Steele, a Catholic, was criticized by some pro-lifers for his ties to the pro-choice Republican Leadership Council. He was also criticized for favoring the death penalty in Maryland (another thing that some would find in contradiction to his faith) after previously speaking against it.

As far as ties to infamous figures go, Steele also worked for a mayoral campaign in DC for Marion Barry and his former brother-in-law is Mike Tyson.

In 2002 and 2006, the campaign of Bob Ehrlich and Steele used charter buses to bing in poor people they found in DC and Philly to Prince George’s County to hand out fliers that have been criticized for being deceptive,dirty tricks, and playing racial politics. These tactics backfired on the Ehrlich-Steele campaign. You would think Steele would have warned the campaign about this in the county he served as Republican Party Chairman.

Steele at the RNC

Steele ended up at the RNC as chairman and I’ve heard lots of things about the disaster that was from people around DC and as well as press reports. Of course, when these things were being reported on Steele played the race card. Some sampling of management issues at the RNC under Steele’s tenure is below.

From 2011:

Former RNC Co-Chairwoman Ann Wagner questioned Monday how an organization “steeped in mismanagement, distractions and drama” could win elections.

“It is time for some tough love at the Republican National Committee,” she said. “I think it’s time for real change.”

Former Michigan state GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis, who ran unsuccessfully against Steele in the last internal election, hammered Steele over a projection that the committee is $20 million in debt.

“I think the Republican National Committee is at a moment of crisis,” Anuzis said.

From 2010:

Steele has said in recent days that he will not resign his post despite mounting pressure from donors and the press to explain the party’s spending and relatively woeful cash on hand. Steele has previously been criticized for holding the 2010 Winter Meeting at a lavish Honolulu resort, taking big payments for speaking engagements and for his national book tour, as well as several verbal gaffes.

Some of the above criticism came from a California S&M club scandal and other spending:

Michael Steele’s getting a real flogging this morning for lavish spending, but hey, maybe he likes it that way. On a recent trip to California, FEC records show that Steele enjoyed a $9,099 stay at the Beverly Hills Hotel, spent another $6,596 at the nearby Four Seasons and—get this—dropped $1,946 at Voyeur West Hollywood, a bondage-themed topless nightclub.

[...]

And he’s not even fundraising on these trips, insiders gripe, just recruiting candidates. Steele also spent $17,514 on charter flights in February alone, and once suggested the RNC just buy him a private jet, sources tell the Daily Caller.

Steele, Romney, and 2012

It is true that Steele was RNC Chairman when Republicans took the House back in 2010, but that was an odd year with a confluence of multiple things happening. How much credit should he really get for that when groups like the Republican Governors Association were having to raise money they normally would get from the RNC:

“We have to come up with about $10 million that normally would have been pushed into the governors races in various directions, largely through state parties,” Barbour said at a press breakfast in Washington, addressing what he called “the impact” of the national party’s deficiencies.

With about $5 million in the bank and at least $2 million in debt, the RNC is not going to be able to fund such paid get-out-the-vote activities as direct mail and robocalls for gubernatorial and Senate races. Instead, the national party is focused on using its limited resources to assist GOP candidates in targeted House races, which are more inexpensive, with turnout efforts.

Tell me again why anybody should care what Michael Steele has to say about the RNC right now after he left the place in shambles? There may be valid criticisms in the Politico story by others concerned about the appearance of bias at the RNC, but Michael Steele is nothing but a washed-up has-been trying to extend his 15 minutes of fame.

I think there is a bias from the so-called “establishment” toward the candidate that is deemed the most electable. As I said above, I am not a fan of the whole GOP field this time. However, I’d vote for any of them over the current President in the general election. The House and Senate are still important places for activists to focus their attention on in this year’s election.

This election will be a referendum on Barack Obama and I think at this point that the election of a Republican as president would be more about Obama losing than someone else winning.

Jeff Quinton

Jeff Quinton is an award-winning blogger who has been aggregating and blogging since 1998. He has worked as a reporter, in government, and as a communications professional in SC and DC.

Quinton is a native South Carolinian who has lived in Baltimore for 8 years. He is a recent convert to the Catholic Church and is active in the Knights of Columbus.

Quinton is a veteran who served as an intelligence analyst in the Army National Guard. He is also an Eagle Scout.