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I'm Convinced

Political scientists and all around smart guys Carl Scott (in this thread) and James Poulos make the argument that Michael Steele should be fired regardless of procedural and public relations obstacles.  I agree, but let's add up the costs and benefits of firing Steele.

If Steele is fired he might well become a critic of the GOP and go on liberal-leaning media to peddle whatever anti-Republican narrative puts him in the best light and plays to the prejudices of those running those media outlets.  So from that perspective, it might make sense to have Steele making a fool of himself inside the tent than causing trouble outside.  But as Rich Lowry points out, even if Steele isn't fired, he probably won't be reappointed when his term expires in 2011 and he "will be sorely tempted to run to MSNBC to tell the world how awful his party is."  So not firing Steele now doesn't so much avoid the risk of criticism from Steele as much as shift it from now (or next month) to next year.  Maybe there is good reason to want to risk that criticism next year rather than later this year.  But what are the costs of keeping Steele?  Those costs include a) more Michael Steele gaffes and b) losing out on whatever good an effective RNC chairman could accomplish.  It would seem to me that the costs of keeping Michael Steele far exceed the costs of dumping him.  I know that this analysis partly depends on the assumption that Steele's replacement would be competent.  A guy can hope. 

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Discussions - 9 Comments

Can't some Republican tycoon be persuaded to give Steele a high-paying no-show job that will give him an incentive to shut up after he is fired? Aren't there any rich Republicans anymore?

Incidentally, how is it that Steele's idiocy was never noticed before he was placed in his current position? As I recall, the Ohio GOP had serious hopes for his future as a holder of elective office before he lost the race for Lt Gov a few years ago. Did no one ever notice that the guy was a fool? Not as much of a fool as the guys running the GOP, I guess. No wonder the Republicans are called the stupid party.

To be clear, I am a Republican, and am frustrated with the ineptitude of the people who run the party.

DJF I think you're confusing Michael Steele and Ken Blackwell. Steele was Lt Gov of Maryland, Blackwell was secretary of state for Ohio and lost the election for governor. Blackwell and Steele were on the short short-list for RNC chairman and Steele won. I think most Ohio Republicans who knew of Blackwell were disappointed with the choice at the time; now everyone is.

Apologies for confusing Blackwell with Steele. However, I think my point stands: how is that Steele got as far as holding the office of state Lt Gov (in a state next to DC, no less) and no one in the national GOP realized that, if he got the chairmanship, he would be a disaster? Surely, there must have been warning signs that the man is a narcissistic, dimwitted loudmouth, as the world now knows.

Maybe they were there, but people didn't pay much attention to them given the field he was running against and Steele's own superficial strengths. Look at the friendly National Review profile from December 2005. Read it now with the question in mind "Is this person a big talking self-promoter of little substance?" But hindsight often makes choices seem easier than they really were.

Steele really came across well on television if you kept the conversation generic. and what kind of a self-promoter would he be if he never got over on people? How many of his gaffes have been about Steele trying to ingratiate himself to an audience?

The rhetorical demands of being the RNC chair aren't easy - especially if one's main selling point is one's ability to communicate. It is even harder when your party is in opposition. Your job would be easier if you were a mouthpiece for the President. You have to express your opinions of the full range of national issues - expect for those issues where you shouldn't (and then you need to have a plausible explanation about why you aren't commenting.) You aren't really expressing your own opinions or principles, but those of your party, but your own party is often internally divided. You have to regularly reposition out of partisan interest rather than your own principles. Alot of it is feel.

It wasn't obvious that Steele would flop as badly as he did at the rhetorical aspects of his job. In his tenure as RNC chief, he never seems to have been good at doing his homework (I remember seeing him talking about health care policy and just knowing that he was faking it) and tried to substitute attitude, which often got him into trouble

Though rereading the coverage of (and much of the conservative commentary on) the RNC race gives a better idea of how Steele got elected in the first place. Here is a link

http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=OGI3ZTViMDg4OTViNGFjNGEzNzZhM2EzYWZkNGU0MTE=

It probably also helps to remember that Steele came across much better on televsion than Blackwell (who was not even Steele's main opponent.) Both Blackwell and Steele had lost statewide elections in 2006, but Steele had gotten a higher percentage of the vote in what is usually a more Democratic-leaning state. There were reasons for this (starting with the incredible unpopularity of the incumbent Ohio Republican governor in 2006) but no doubt lots of those nuances weres lost.

Pete, I appreciate your thoughtful response, but I think it just underscores that (1) the GOP is run by time-servers who are easily taken in by a glib, nonsubstantive self-promoter who (I suppose I'm speculating here, technically) offers the party yet another chance to prove that it is not racist and (2) there are not a lot of talented, substantive people out there interested in chairing the Republican party.

That the chairman's job is not to advocate for his personal views is just the point. The people who chose Steele should have realized that he would be a loose cannon and self-promoter. That he performed well repeating Reagan-era bromides in some sort of staged "debate" (as stated in the linked post) was no indication of the man's policy knowledge or character. I wonder - was there any one on the RNC, or its staff, who was capable of cross-examining the man (or the other candidates) on his knowledge of pollicy issues? Or of looking deeper into his record to discern possible character flaws?

The mistake of hiring Steele would not be so important by itself, but to me it symbolizes the sorry state of the party. The current resurgence is a gift of the Democrats, which I fear will be squandered.

DJF, mostly agree with the estimation of the Republcian Party establishment (especialy in 2008-2009) and you can get the same impression by listening to the average House Republican in debate. That the GOP was short of young (or even old but fresh as in Reagan in the 70s) blood in 2008-2009 is clear. The Tea Parties and a general suspicion of establishment (read: time serving hack) supported candidates is bringing in new people not just to postions within the Republcian Party but also to center-right activism. I suspect you are equivocal about this. Me too, but probably for different reasons I haven't yet found the words to express those concerns. I do hope and believe that the current anitestablishment and decentralized conservative activism will produce longer term positive results - especially if it can find candidates who take some of the best policy ideas of conservative thinkers like Yuval Levin.

I think that the process of selecting a RNC chair probably (as Iunderstand it) played to Steele's strengths. He was selling himself to a small audience. Rich Lowry testifies that Steele does quite well in those situations. The committee members were themselves getting pressure from the conservative blogoshere (if I remember correctly Steele had the most support of those who expressed opinions.) And all this with the disorientation from two straight crushing defeats.

Pete, I'm all in favor of creative thinking like Yuval Levin's, but are the kind of candidates who benefit from the Tea Party movement even willing to listen to such ideas? The nomination of Rand Paul in Ky - which seems a good bet to needlessly lose a seat we should have won - is not a positive indicator. Possibly ditto in Nevada (although I haven't personally verified the claims that Angle is daffy). I'm not an opponent of the Tea Partiers, I just don't think they should be steering the ship (somehow, I think the shades of Washington, Adams and Hamilton agree with me). If our only choices for pilot are the Tea Partiers, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the hack establishment - the Andy Card./Karen Hughes/Alberto Gonzales/Harriet Miers/Michael Brown wing of the party - we're finished, no matter how unpopular the Democrats become.

Sorry for the pessimism. But sometimes, it seems to me that the GOP is checkmated - they can't stay where they are, but they can't move either - movement in any direction will hurt as much as or more than it helps.

Ultimately, I think, the problem is the Democrats have built a coalition based not only on the ideologically motivated but on particularized self-interest (aid recipients, govt workers & service contractors, labor) and/or ethnic solidarity that anchors voters who might disagree with the party on any number of particular issues or would otherwise be politically indifferent. The GOP is too dependent on voters' ideological motivations and interest as citizens in the general national wellbeing to keep up, given the country's demographics. The days when the GOP could try to bridge the gap by offering voters taxcuts seem to be over.

DJF, right about tax cuts (in the sense of across the board marginal income tax cuts) as a bridge across constituencies. I also think that your concerns about the Tea Parties have some validity, but there is the potential that we are seeing the very early stages of a learning curve. I'll try to have some stuff to say about that later this week. I think the Tea Parties (as a term) stand in for a decentralized center-right activism and alot of good can come from them, but they will (eventually) have to be well lead (eventually, and we might not have even heard of those leaders yet) and connected to constituencies that aren't especially Tea Party-oriented primarily for reasons of media consumption habits.

I think the Democratic coalition is, if not fragile, at least not invulnerable. I think making gains among nonwhites is not hopeless though difficult and will require a strategy and a major commitment of resources (especially time.) I also think that, for this to work, Republicans need an economic program that can plausibly offer significant improvements in living standards for the majority. But the economic program is a necessary but insufficient condition.

I hope you're right, Pete.

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