Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele recently debated MSNBC’s John Heilemann about comparisons between same-sex and interracial marriage, arguing that people who are black have a significantly different experience from those who are gay because of the visibility of their identities. Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher followed up with Steele about this interview, and Steele explained that though he still opposes marriage equality, he supports “full privileges and benefits” for the LGBT community:
STEELE: I’ve been very supportive of gay rights activists… I do not support gay marriage because of my own religious tenets and my faith tradition, but at the same time I do believe in making sure that gay individuals have full privileges and benefits, whether it’s insurance and health and all the other things that couples would have in a relationship, and I would argue the same for heterosexual couples. I don’t understand why you have a man and a woman who live together for 7, 8, 10 years, whatever, why they can’t enjoy the same type of benefits.
Despite this concession, Steele did not back down from his point that many African Americans object to their own oppression being compared to the plight of the LGBT community. Listen to an excerpt from the interview:
In his discussion with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) on MSNBC yesterday, The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart argued that African Americans might not fully understand the LGBT community’s struggles: “It’s an issue of whether — if I were to get married to my partner and we were to have children, that my children would have the same protections that your children have because you’re able to legally marry… In that regard, we’re talking overall [about] a civil rights issue and what African Americans continue to struggle with is exactly what lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are struggling with today.”
Pat Buchanan, the former presidential candidate and long-time contributor to MSNBC, has been formally let go from the network four months after he was suspended following the publication of Suicide of a Superpower, a book MSNBC president Phil Griffin had said should not “be part of the national dialogue, much less part of the dialogue on MSNBC.”
Suicide of a Superpower may have been more shocking because it pulled so many of Buchanan’s ideas into one place, but the concepts that Buchanan espoused on MSNBC and in his other writings for years were hardly a constructive part of the national conversation: my colleague Adam Peck’s detailed some of most shocking statements here. In 2006, he said that accusing then-Rep. Harold Ford of sexual laciviousness wasn’t racially coded because he “is a guy that likes Playboy bunnies. Almost all of them are white.” He suggested that then-Sen. Hillary Clinton and Rep. Nancy Pelosi were soft on inappropriate sexual advances towards Congressional pages because they’d marched in gay pride parades with the North American Man-Boy Love Association. On Chris Matthews’ show, Buchanan described immigration as a purposeful invasion of American soil. Off-network, he suggested that Anders Breivik, who committed last summer’s terrible terrorist attack in Norway may have been correct about the threat of a multi-cultural and multi-faith Europe.
In addition to being reprehensible, these ideas don’t display any sort of creative thinking or coherent worldview on policy or politics. They just represent an overarching fear of difference, and an attempt to legitimate ugly knee-jerk reactions. Even if you leave out the ugly conclusions Buchanan reached, it’s not clear why this quality of political thought and constant default to stereotype without analysis are valuable, worthy of not just the salary but the status that comes with a contributor position at MSNBC. Surely that money could have been spent elevating talented and creative thinkers for whom a slot on MSNBC would be a blessing, rather than Buchanan, who had his post by virtue of his run for president rather than any ongoing contributions. But then, when it comes to conservatives, perhaps Buchanan’s the best MSNBC could sign up given the competition from Fox News, which has a tendency to lock up conservative superstars quickly, leaving MSNBC to pick from the Michael Steeles of the wannabe conservative commentariat.
Buchanan’s tenure at MSNBC seems like a warning about trying to balance out a group of reasonable liberals with a single contributor or a small group of wildly conservative commentators. Maybe the virulence of his views was inoculate the network from demands that they bring on more conservative contributors. But that risk doesn’t seem worth it if it means keeping alive views after the American consensus rejected them. It would be unfortunate if MSNBC slowed that process by keeping Buchanan on the air for a decade even after the political mainstream recognized his ideas for what they were.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) has come under fire after the Washington Post reported yesterday that he hosted friends and lawmakers at ranch that featured a rock inscribed with the word “Niggerhead” on it. Perry’s camp has sought to discredit the story, but in an interview with Time Magazine today, former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, who is African American, said the revelation is “very troubling on some many levels, for so many reasons.” “So, I’m sorry – my attitude is just remove the rock,” Steele added, “Just get rid of the rock.”
Steele appeared on MSNBC this afternoon where he elaborated on his criticism of Perry:
STEELE: We cannot be lackadaisical about these issues. We cannot be insensitive in that regard and say well just paint over it, because it still is a reminder of what’s beneath the paint. And I think again that’s what irks a lot of African Americans and a lot of minorities when it comes to how the Republican Party and sometimes its individual candidates respond to these types of things.
African-American GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain also criticized Perry, telling ABC News yesterday that the ranch name is “just plain insensitive towards a lot of black people in this country.”
A growing debate has emerged in recent weeks within Republican Party leadership over the future of American involvement in Afghanistan. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said last week that “it’s time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can,” even though he couched it by adding that he would listen primarily to the generals on the ground. Former Gov. Jon Huntsman (R-UT) told Esquire, “If you can’t define a winning exit strategy for the American people where we somehow come out ahead, then…I don’t think that serves our strategic interests.” Huntsman and Romney joined fellow GOP presidential candidates Ron Paul (R-TX) and Gary Johnson (R-NM) in pushing the GOP toward supporting a draw-down in Afghanistan.
These comments prompted a backlash from hawkish Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) over the weekend. Graham said on NBC’s Meet the Press, “If you think the pathway to the GOP nomination in 2012 is to get to Barack Obama’s left on Libya, Afghanistan, and Iraq, you’re gonna meet a lot of headwinds.” Similarly, ABC’s This Week, McCain criticized Romney’s drift toward a withdrawal position.
But the infighting within the Republican Party on Afghanistan doesn’t stop there. When asked about the leadership divide on Fox News this morning, RNC chairman Reince Priebus refused to take sides and wouldn’t even say whether or not he thinks the U.S. should begin a significant drawdown. “I’m not going get into the weeds on this issue,” he said. Yet over on MSNBC today, Priebus’s predecessor Michael Steele acknowledged that Americans are war weary and said that many Republicans have told him privately that the U.S. needs an endgame:
STEELE: Even at that time when I was getting slammed by the neocons in the party on this issue, I had a number of senators and congressman say “we agree with you but we can’t say anything because the republicans have hitched their wagons to this particular policy.” [...] I’m not an isolationist … particularly when it comes to protecting the interests of the American people but what is that interest we are protecting here? What is the upside for the cost that’s being expended right now? That is a legitimate question.
Nearly half of the GOP presidential candidates have called for some sort of with withdrawal, joining a growing chorus of Republicans in the Senate and the House who are calling for a winding down of the war. Given the diminishing support for continuing the conflict within the Democratic caucus, President Obama may have a tough time resisting pressure to draw down American involvement and maintain similar troops levels in the country as some military leaders have recommended.
National Democrats have been quick to distance themselves from disgraced Rep. Anthony Wiener (D-NY) in the wake of his Twitter sex scandal, with the party’s top leaders in both chambers publicly chastising him. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and DCCC Chairman Steve Israel (D-NY) called for an ethics investigation, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine called on Weiner to resign, while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) coldly said he would urge Weiner to “call somebody else” if the Congressman asked for advice. Other Democrats have returned campaign contributions from Weiner.
Meanwhile, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has vocally called for Weiner’s resignation. But this has led many to questions if Priebus is exploiting the scandal for political gain by holding Weiner to a standard the GOP didn’t apply to their own members embroiled in scandal, especially Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) who admitted in 2007 to patronizing a prostitution ring. Vitter remains in the Senate to this day and easily won reelection in 2010. Fox News host Greta Van Susteren asked Priebus about this double standard last night, but Priebus refused to address it and Van Susteren, not surprisingly, allowed him to evade the question:
VAN SUSTEREN: Is there a difference with Senator David Vitter, I mean, with the whole — with his whole little prostitution — he’s on a prostitution client list. Is that different?
PRIEBUS: Well, I don’t know if it’s different.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, nobody called –
PRIEBUS: Frankly, I’m not relitigating the David Vitter situation.
But even Priebus’s predecessor, former RNC Chairman Michael Steele, sees some “inconsistency” in Priebus’ acrimony, as he told MSNBC’s Rachael Maddow last night:
STEELE: It doesn’t matter if your name is Vitter or Weiner…[t]he consequences of breaking that trust should be equally applied. I heard what the chairman said today and thought it was a little bit not right. You can’t look at one case and say that this behavior warrants dismissal or you should quit, or look at another one that may be a degree or two more egregious and not see that same that requirement of removing yourself from office.
Watch a compilation of Priebus and Steele:
Priebus has explicitly insisted that DNC Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) should call on Weiner to resign. But how did Priebus’s predecessors handle the Vitter scandal? Neither Duncan Hunter nor former Sen. Mel Martinez — who co-headed the RNC in 2007 — called on Vitter to resign. In fact, according to a Nexis search, it appears neither even addressed the scandal publicly.
Vitter did, however, receive public support from fellow Louisiana Republicans. Realizing that the state’s Democratic governor would likely appoint a Democrat if Vitter resigned, the state GOP launched “a concerted push…to offer some support” for the embattled senator, the The New Oreleans Times Picyune reported at the time. Then-Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-LA), who was in the midst of a successful bid for governor, issued a statement saying, “While we are disappointed by Senator Vitter’s actions…[t]his is a matter for the Senator to address, and it is our hope that this is not used by others for their own political gain.” Louisiana GOP Reps. Richard Baker and Charles Boustany issued their own “supportive statements,” with Baker saying Vitter’s illegal use of prostitution “does not define the whole of the man and it is not irredeemable.” He even urged to the news media to exercise “some restraint” when writing about the scandal.
Priebus is right to call for a high ethical standard for political leaders, but his indignation would ring less hollow if he applied the same standard to those in his own party as well.
But an increasingly isolated Gingrich has at least one defender on the right: former RNC Chairman Michael Steele. Appearing on CSPAN’s Washington Journal this morning, Steele said he “likes” Gingrich “very much” and defended the former House Speaker’s comments about Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) Medicare plan. Steele even suggested that some of Gingrich’s critics may be hypocritical, as many of them haven’t always supported the plan:
HOST: A lot of House Republicans and others in the party are sort of unhappy with him, what are your thoughts on that?
STEELE: Well, I think, I watched Newt respond to that since that interview. … And, you know, you could quibble with the words or whatever and I understand that, but what I think Newt was trying to say is that there are a broad range of budget plans and neither the right nor the left in extreme measures will be able to move with the American people in a new direction. That’s part of the debate. [...]
And keep in mind about the Ryan budget, a lot of the people that are sort of running around and trying to stir up a little cock fight about what Newt Gingrich said, a year a go were saying that the Ryan plan was not their plan. That it was Paul Ryan’s plan, not their plan. … What people don’t endorse today, they’ll endorse tomorrow.
Later in the program, a man called into the show asking why Steele, who is African American, was defending Gingrich after he recently made severalracially-tinged comments. Steele again defended Gingrich, suggesting the comment in question was taken out of context. Watch it:
Indeed, before Ryan’s plan was the GOP budget, when it was his “Roadmap,” only 13 House Republicans signed on. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), House Majority Leader Cantor (R-VA) “and others [in the GOP caucus] are not showing much eagerness to take up the roadmap’s specifics,” the National Review reported in January. Cantor, “like the others, is not championing the roadmap as the House GOP budget strategy.” Of course, the roadmap became the basis of the GOP budget strategy. This morning, Cantor said in a radio interview that Gingrich’s criticism of the Ryan Plan is wrong and that he is guilty of “tremendous misspeak.” Potential presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty also “explicitly declined to support” Roadmap.
While the prospect of a government shutdown has been averted for the moment, Republicans have been trying to convince Americans that “there’s been no talk about shutting the government down on our side” — despite the fact that plentyof prominentGOPers have said the exact opposite. Asked about this doublespeak today on ABC News’ Topline, former RNC Chairman Michael Steele said, “There’s nothing wrong with a government shutdown.” He even noted that he’s been “an advocate for it for six, seven months now”:
HOST: What’s your take on this? Is this something that Republicans should really fear? … What’s wrong with a government shutdown?
STEELE: Well I think there’s — I personally, I think there’s nothing wrong with a government shutdown. I’ve been an advocate for it for six, seven months now. For the simple reason that it is the shocker. It is the reality check that the spenders need to have, that those who are trying to chart a different course need to have.
But he’s very wrong in saying “there’s noting wrong” with a shutdown. During a shutdown, many health care, veterans, passport, and other services cease to function, while law enforcement work can be hampered, and people may have trouble receiving Social Security and Medicare benefits. Moreover, the 1995 and 1996 government shutdowns, proudly started by former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich, ended up costing American taxpayers over $800 million in lost productivity and “rattled the confidence of international investors in U.S. government bonds.” Even if Steele doesn’t care about veterans services being cut off, the fiscal conservative should see something “wrong” in needlessly wasting hundreds of millions of dollars.
Under the mismanagement of former chairman Michael Steele, the Republican National Committee racked up a staggering $23 million debt thanks to lavish spending and poor fundraising. But new chairman Reince Priebus has a brilliant idea to save his ailing party: sell the Gipper. Capitalizing on the 100th anniversary of President Reagan’s birth, the RNC launched a website that looks like it was designed in the Great Communicator’s era, which offers red-blooded conservatives a chance to fork over $400 for a framed photo of Reagan’s inauguration, $25 for a Reagan bobble head, or $25 for some jelly beans. The website allows visitors to sign a birthday card for Reagan (no word on how it will be delivered) and suggests visitors may want to donate:
February 6, 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of President Reagan’s birth in Tampico, Illinois. Please take a moment to sign President Reagan’s 100th birthday card! After signing, please consider a contribution to the RNC to help the party elect conservative candidates committed to the ideals of President Reagan.
And as USA Today reports, “Priebus and the committee sent out a fundraising letter highlighting the new website, along with a pitch for suggested donations of $25, $50, $100 or more.” “Only with your generous support will the RNC have the resources to recruit and train the next generation of Reagan Republicans for the 2011-2012 elections,” the letter reads.
As RNC chair, Michael Steele made it clear that his election strategy for the 2010 midterms was to elect Republicans that would repeal the new health care law. “We will work night and day to elect congressmen and senators to undo it, because this is not what America needs right now,” he said. And Steele specifically praised states’ efforts to challenge the provision in the new law requiring Americans to purchase health insurance, calling it a “gross overreach of the federal government.”
During an interview with Steele last night on CNN, host Eliot Spitzer noted that New York Times conservative columnist Ross Douthat had recently acknowledged the real purpose of the mandate and eventually got Steele to admit that the “logic” of it is correct:
SPITZER: What this system does is says they — these 30 million people — will contribute and therefore everybody else not only saves money because their taxes and premiums can go down, but more important, the care of this 30 million receives will be rationally delivered. … Why is that logic wrong?
STEELE: Well, I’m not saying the logic is wrong. But the logic can be right, but the cost can be a real pain in the you-know-what. … You didn’t show. You drew a circle. You’re not showing me how you save any money. Where is the savings? Where is the savings? I see no savings. I see a circle with an arrow.
SPITZER: Michael, you acknowledge the logic was pretty compelling. Let me just say this.
STEELE: Look, I’m all for logic. I want to know how much it’s going to cost me and my family and my business.
SPITZER: All right. All right. We’ve reached a big — [...] This is a good news interview because we agreed that we both like logic.
So Steele is “all for” the logic of the health insurance mandate, but his main concern seems to be the cost. While it’s unclear what cost Steele is referring to, the CBO said the fees levied from the insurance requirement would bring in nearly $70 billion over 10 years and that repealing the entire law itself — what Steele wants to do — would actually cost the federal government $230 billion over the same time frame. But if Steele is referring to the individual cost of insurance, then that is part of the “logic” behind the mandate that he agrees with: bringing more people into the insurance pool in order to bring costs down.
Spitzer is pretty good at getting conservatives who are against the mandate to admit that the “logic” of it is sound. Earlier this month, he pushed new Tea Party-backed Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) on whether the mandate “makes sense.” “Yes, I understand the logic of it,” Lee finally admitted.