RNC's Steele Dragging the Party Down

SteeleThere is no doubting the fact that Democrats are in a bad place right now. Polls show that, unless things change, Republicans stand to gain some real ground in Congress this fall. Of course, anything can happen between now and then but, for the time being, things look pretty bleak for dems. In my opinion, this has more to do with the inability of Senate Democrats to get their act together and behave like a party than anything -- although, there's some blame to be cast in the house as well. Bart Stupak and his crowd also decided that the best thing to do in an election year was to drive a wedge into their own party. The entire intra-party healthcare debate reminds me of the sheriff in Blazing Saddles holding a gun to his own head. Only, in this case, holdout Democrats carried out the sheriff's threat.

Party discipline? What's that?

If they want some good news, Democrats aren't going to be able to look in their own backyards -- that place is a wreck. They're going to have to look to the mess in the neighbor's yard. Luckily, that place is a wreck as well and sitting atop the rubble is Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele.

Things are so bad over at the RNC that they've begun slaughtering scapegoats. Politico reports that RNC Chief of Staff Ken McKay has resigned, "becoming the highest-ranking official to depart the committee" after the big lesbian/bondage-themed striporama scandal. But as soon as Steele tries to put one flap behind him, he jumps head first into another.

[Politics Daily:]

Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele -- who really can't afford another 'holy ----" story after a GOP staffer dropped $1,900 at a lesbian-bondage themed Hollywood club and a top conservative called for an RNC donor boycott -- has hired a new "special assistant for finance."

Although described by many as a smart, gifted and glib fundraiser, Neil S. Alpert, 31, who began work on March 29, probably won't do much to burnish Steele's image as a money manager.

This is the same Neil S. Alpert who in July 2007 was ordered by the District of Columbia government to repay nearly $70,000 in unauthorized expenses and unaccounted money from a pair of local baseball groups he had chaired. He was also fined $4,000.

"Several [D.C. Baseball] PAC and association board members and advisers told me they wanted the matter referred to the U.S. Attorney's Office for prosecution," writes PD's Annie Groer, "but that they understood $70,000 was 'too small' an amount for law enforcement to pursue. They also concluded that filing a civil suit would be too costly for the loosely organized, all-volunteer boards."

So Steele fires one guy over an expenses scandal and hires someone who's basically an embezzler. Needless to say, that probably wasn't the wisest way to go. Republican donors could be excused for feeling less than reassured by the moves.

But that's just Michael Steele. Apparently, there's something seriously wrong with the man. Poor impulse control, maybe. He's almost Bushian is the way he just barrels ahead with whatever strikes him at the moment, without any regard for -- or even awareness of -- the consequences. This is the same guy who sent out a fundraising pack with the number of a phone sex line on it, spent thousands of dollars on private jets, swanky hotel rooms, and limousines, promised a "hip-hop makeover" to lure young people and blacks to the GOP (a makeover that resulted in a seriously awful website -- and pretty much nothing else), and then accused the critics of all these foul-ups, bad ideas, and mismanagement of racism.

"Most people are reevaluating whether there s a way that the chairman can be sidelined so we can get through this without hurting our electoral chances," a "longtime ally of Michael Steele" told Greg Sargent. "If it was as simple as firing the CEO than that would happen."

But getting rid of Steele is unlikely. Two-thirds of the party's 168 committee members would have to vote to remove him and apparently the votes aren't there. Maybe Republican holdouts are worried about how it would look in an election year; it'd just highlight the fact that the committee is in chaos. Instead, they're working on marginalizing Steele, by attempting a private fundraising campaign.

And, even at what would seem to be the bottom, Steele has managed to make things worse. His racism comment isn't going to fly well with a base already tired of accusations of bigotry from the left. He's already insulted small donors once, now here he is doing it again. "It's the worst thing he has done," Sargent's contact told him. "This kind of thing drives small donors crazy. People will grin and bear [Steele] as much as they can -- until the fundraising dries up." I remind you, this person is described as a "longtime ally of Michael Steele." Imagine what his actual enemies are saying.

So if Democrats are heading for a crash in November, they may have RNC chairman Michael Steele as an airbag. The GOP's fundraising has always been party-centric; switching that to a private campaign in an election year will be a real problem for them. Democrats have a good extra-party funding apparatus through unions and groups like MoveOn.org and the GOP may find that difficult, if not impossible, to match. And, despite the fact that Democrats are down in the polls, they're still doing better on the fundraising front than Republicans.

When the smoke clears on election day, Democrats may very well find themselves battered and bruised. But, thanks in part to Michael Steele, they'll probably be able to say one thing about it honestly.

"It could've been worse."


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