Just when it seemed that RNC Chairman Michael Steele had learned the lessons from his rocky early days in the job, it looks like he's decided to throw himself needlessly back into the fire. He seemed to be getting into a bit of hot water last week with the announcement that there would be new RNC rules governing how he could spend committee funds.
But that was arcane inside-the-Beltway behind-the-scenes bureacratic stuff to which the average person hardly pays attention.
That can't be said for comments Steele made Monday while guest-hosting Bill Bennett's syndicated radio show. A caller asserted that Democrats "co-opted" the GOP primaries, preventing Mitt Romney from winning the GOP nomination and going on to beat Barack Obama.
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Now, how Democrats co-opted the Republican primaries, I don't know. After all, it was Rush Limbaugh who launched "Operation Chaos" to try to assist Hillary Clinton and extend the Democratic primary contest. And Arlen Specter admits that the reason he switched parties is because 200,000 Republicans left the party to vote in the Democratic presidential primary. That would mean that the remaining members in the party are more conservative. Even in New Hampshire, which allows independents to declare at the last moment which primary they wish to vote in, many of those independents voted on the Democratic side. So, it's not as if Democrats were voting Republican and liberalizing the GOP base.
Steele could have made those points. Instead, he said:
Yeah, but let me ask you. Ok, Jay, I’m there with you. But remember, it was the base that rejected Mitt because of his switch on pro-life, from pro-choice to pro-life. It was the base that rejected Mitt because it had issues with Mormonism. It was the base that rejected Mitch, Mitt, because they thought he was back and forth and waffling on those very economic issues you’re talking about. So, I mean, I hear what you’re saying, but before we even got to a primary vote, the base had made very clear they had issues with Mitt because if they didn’t, he would have defeated John McCain in those primaries in which he lost.
During the primaries a year ago, Hillary Rodham Clinton seemingly implied that working white people had issues with a black candidate like Barack Obama. She characterized it in a USA Today editorial board meeting that Obama couldn't make the sale to "working, hard-working Americans, white Americans..." She added, "whites in both states [Indiana and North Carolina] who had not completed college were supporting me."
That comment blew up in Clinton's face -- with her looking like she was intentionally playing the race card. But, she was a candidate trying to make her best case to continue a primary campaign. The chairman of the party shouldn't be suggesting or identifying that a segment of his party's base is biased against Mormons -- true or not. For one, it's a bad statement to make -- potentially disquieting members. More significantly, it gives Romney opponents a line of subtle and not-so-subtle attacks against the former Massachusetts governor.
This highlights another problem for Steele: the circumstances behind the quote. It's clear he shouldn't take regular gigs as guest-host for conservative radio shows. Something of this nature was bound to happen. These shows typically run about three hours or so. That's a lot of time to fill in conversation. It's inevitable that Steele would say something that would be controversial and he'd end up having to explain it all away. And sure enough, that's where things stand. Look, Bill Bennett can say and do whatever he wants on his show: He's only beholden to himself and his advertisers.
Steele, however, is answerable to a "board of trustees" -- the Republican National Committee. After the blow-up over finances last week, that board can't be happy to hear its CEO seemingly denigrate both a once-and-future presidential candidate and a portion of its base in one statement.
Michael Steele should give up the radio gig. It does him no good.
Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots.