Embattled and gaffe-prone Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele is expected to announce today that he will not run for another term, following a two-year tenure marked by embarrassing scandals and gross financial mismanagement. Observers have long suspected that Steele would not run again, noting that GOP officials have pulled the plug on their support. Steele will likely use a conference call with reporters planned for this evening to tout his record and attempt to salvage his legacy, but the facts of his two-year tenure make that a tough sell.
Under Steele’s watch, the RNC has been hampered by anemic fundraising and profligate spending, leaving the committee with $15 million of debt — including $7 million they attempted to hide from the FEC — and less than $2 million in the bank, despite a banner year for Republicans and conservative fundraising. Money woes directly impacted the RNC’s ability to do its job, forcing the party to dramatically cut back on key voter turnout programs.
Steele has received stinging public rebukes from within his own party, and even within the RNC. Treasurer Randy Pullen publicly accused Steele of mismanaging the RNC’s finances and of trying to distort financial records, while the committee’s former political director — who is now considering a run for chairman himself — said Steele’s poor leadership cost the GOP electorally, and put the committee at a disadvantage going into the 2012 cycle. A member of the RNC’s executive committee has even called for an investigation into Steele’s financial management, accusing him of “cronyism.”
But nothing characterized Steele’s tenure as chairman more than his propensity to make a fool of himself on the national stage. Steele’s string of inaccurate, contradictory, off-message, and downright bizarre gaffes often made him a laughing stock for progressives, and an embarrassment for conservatives. Some of his highlights:
— Steele told Americans not to trust Republicans: “You have absolutely no reason, none, to trust our word or our actions at this point.” [February, 2009]
— Steele told African-Americans not to vote GOP: “You really don’t have a reason to, to be honest — we haven’t done a very good job of really giving you one. True? True.” [April, 2010]
— Steele defended the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy by saying, “Trust me, after taxes, a million dollars is not a lot of money.” [February, 2010]
— Steele suggested God made him RNC chair: “But God, I really believe, has placed me here for a reason because who else and why else would you do this unless there’s something inside of you that says right now you need to be here to do this?” [January, 2010]
— On a radio show, Steele said he “absolutely agree[d]” “1,000%” with a caller who said House Republican Leader John Boehner and the rest of the GOP congressional leadership is “an absolute freaking joke.” [August, 2009]
— Steele suggested the GOP was not ready to govern: “We still have some vacancies that need to get filled, but then the question we need to ask ourselves is: if we do that, are we ready?” [January, 2010]
— Steele contradicted his party’s position on Afghanistan, suggesting the war was unwinnable: “[T]the one thing you don’t do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan. All right, because everyone who has tried, over a thousand years of history, has failed.” [June, 2010]
— Steele said the press gave President Obama a pass because he is black: “He was not vetted, folks. … He was not vetted, because the press fell in love with the black man running for the office.” [May, 2009]
— Dismissing global warming, Steele said he worried more about global cooling: “We are cooling. We are not warming. The warming you see out there, the supposed warming, and I am using my finger quotation marks here, is part of the cooling process.” [April, 2009]
— Breaking a cardinal right-wing rule, Steele criticized radio host Rush Limbaugh and dismissed him as an entertainer: “Rush Limbaugh, his whole thing is entertainment. Yes, it’s incendiary. Yes, it’s ugly.” [March, 2009]
— Steele said it was “proper” for former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to spread disinformation about death panels: “I think it’s proper because its within the context of what people are seeing in some of the legislation that’s floating around out there.” [August, 2009]
Steele’s chairmanship has also been plagued by high-profile scandals, such as the infamous use of committee money at a bondage-themed strip club in California. Steele also quietly used his title to personally profit from speaking appearances, and took heat for “spending twice as much as his recent predecessors on private planes and paying more for limousines, catering and flowers.” There were also the recent revelations that Steele had hired six members of the same family, and that the committee was spending 18 times more on planning for the next Republican National Convention than they did on the last one.
In February, after a year of humiliating gaffes, Steele vowed he would not stop making them, saying, “Oh, no. Accidents happen, baby.” But now, it seems that the GOP’s tolerance for them has stopped.
After initially reporting that Steele would not seek another term, citing a “handful of well-placed and influential RNC insiders,” Fox News is now reporting that Steele will in fact run again, again citing unnamed sources. It’s unclear whether Steele changed his mind, or if one of Fox’s reports is erroneous.