This past Friday, video surfaced of RNC Chairman Michael Steele speaking at a fundraiser in Connecticut about the war in Afghanistan. While some of Steele’s comments at the fundraiser were clearly inaccurate — such as his claim that the war was of “Obama’s choosing,” when it was started by his predecessor — he also made reasonable, debate-worthy arguments that engaging in a prolonged land war in Afghanistan is unwise.
Rather than refuting the historical inaccuracies in the first half of Steele’s statements and thoughtfully considering his critique of the war, numerous leading conservatives have responded to Steele’s comments by lashing out at the chairman, with some even asking for him to step down from his post. Their message is clear — in the modern Republican Party, you are not allowed to question the wisdom of engaging in a war:
- Leading conservative pundit and McCain presidential campaign advisor Bill Kristol called Steele’s comments an “affront…to the commitment of our soldiers” in Afghanistan and demanded that the chairman step down. [7/2/10]
- RedState founder, leading movement conservative, and CNN contributor Erick Erickson said that Steele “has lost all moral authority” and he “must resign.” [7/2/10]
- Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Steele’s remarks were “totally unacceptable” and said that he should “apologize and resign.” [7/03/10]
- Former Bush State Department official and Keep America Safe founder Liz Cheney said that Steele’s Afghanistan comments were “deeply disappointing and wrong” and that it is “time for Steele to step down.” [7/4/10]
- This morning on ABC’s This Week, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said there was “no excuse” for Steele’s comments and told host Jake Tapper that “Mr. Steele is going to have to assess as to whether he can still lead the Republican Party as chairman of the Republican National Committee.” [7/4/10]
- Speaking on Fox News Sunday today, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) demanded that Steele “apologize to our military” and said that Republicans “need a chairman who’s focused.” [7/4/10]
- On CBS’s Face The Nation, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called Steele’s remarks “unwise” and said “we must win this war.” The senator was thankful, however, that Steele was “backtracking so fast he’s gonna be here fighting in Kabul soon.” [7/4/10]
While leading conservatives may be fine with toppling the head of their party for daring to question the wisdom of a long and protracted war in Afghanistan, they risk marginalizing themselves politically among an American public that is increasingly opposed to America’s longest war in history. A recent USA Today/Gallup poll found that a whopping 58 percent of Americans agree with President Obama’s stated timeline of July 2011 to begin withdrawal from Afghanistan.
It is also worth noting that nine elected Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of the McGovern-Obey amendment requiring President Obama to submit a timeline for withdrawal from Afghanistan — indicating that Steele’s position may be an increasingly popular one in the Republican Party.
As Glenn Greenwald notes, DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse put out a statement saying that Steele’s comments are tantamount to “betting against our troops and walking away from the fight.” Woodhouse’s position is hard to square with the fact that nearly 2/3 of House Democrats have voted to require the President to submit a timeline for withdrawal from Afghanistan.