So the RNC and chairman Steele are getting some heat over this. But as relationship gurus will tell you, its never just about the expenses at bondage clubs. I don't know much about the internals of the job of national committee chairman. I don't know how good Steele is at the care and feeding of donors, recruiting candidates or dealing with state and Washington party leaders in private meetings, but I do get the feeling that Steele would be in a better position if he improved his public presentation and especially how he presents his party.
Much has been made of Steele's gaffes, but alot of them have one thing in common: Steele ends up selling himself by selling out his party, its candidates or institutions. There was the time he agreed with a radio host when the host called Republican House leader John Boehner "an absolute freaking joke," There was the time he said Republicans were afraid of him on account of his race. There was a time when Steele said he faced internal Republican opposition because "I'm a tea partier, I'm a town haller, I'm a grass-roots-er" And now he whines that he has a "slimmer margin for error" because he is African American. In every one of those ill considered statements, Steele was playing up to some audience (usually his interviewer, but sometimes populist conservatives) and trying to make himself look good, even if it made his party look worse. When combined with reports of making paid speeches while RNC chairman, these gaffes can create the impression that Michael Steele is only out for Michael Steele.
To these I would add my personal impression that Steele is sometimes underprepared in his public remarks and therefore wastes his talents as a speaker. I remember seeing him on CNN talking about health care and feeling he was terrified that any follow up question would reveal his shallow understanding of the issue. Bobbly Jindal was on a few segments later and you could see the difference it makes to have really studied the issues.
I don't want Steele to quit or be fired. I'm not sure the next RNC shair would be any better or that the process of removing and replacing Steele wouldn't leave the party bloodied and dealing with a public relations disaster. But I do have some suggestions about how Steele could improve his public presentation, and perhaps his position in the party.
1. Sell the party, not yourself. That doesn't mean not admitting to past mistakes, but it includes taking ownership of those mistakes. The Republicans have a problem with winning over African Americans. Steele didn't create the problem, but asserting that he inspires fear from Republicans due to his color hasn't helped. You represent the party. So when admiting mistakes it is "we" who spent too much or whatever. Then pivot really hard toward your positive message and what is right with GOP principles. If you do a good job selling your party, people will notice that you are doing a good job. Thats not a bad way to sell Michael Steele.
2. Better to be overprepared than underprepared. If you are ging on CNN to talk about Obamacare for ten minutes, first talk to Yuval Levin for an hour or more. It is good to know more than you will be able to get across. The audience will pick up on your confidence and be more likely to listen to what you actually do get to say. This sense of confidence and mastery is one of Obama's greatest assets as a speaker. You have charisma and are likeable, but you can't fake knowing more than you really know. Thats okay. You could still be one heck of a great speaker.
3. A party out of power will naturally be more united on what it is against than on what specific policies to enact. Be clear on the negatives, and when presed to offer a positive alternative, offer two or three strategies being used by various Republican governors. This gives the impression that there are Republicans out there doing good things, while avoiding seeming to establish an official, unified Republican postion on how to reform health care (or cut taxes, or reform entitlements, or whatever.)