The revelation Monday that the Republican National Committee (RNC) expensed a trip to a risqué nightclub is the latest event in an election cycle filled with distractions for the committee.
In 14 months as RNC chairman, Michael Steele has raised the ire of both sides of the party, provoked concern with unguarded comments about certain cultures, become the butt of late-night jokes and spent a great deal of money.
The days of a behind-the-scenes party chairman are a distant memory a year after Steele was elected, and the result has often left leaders of his party shaking their heads.
Monday’s news fit into a long-running storyline about heavy spending. The committee suffers from a high burn rate. It spent about $15 million more than it raised under Steele last year, and in February it continued to lose money.
Steele has drawn heat for spending $18,500 to redecorate his personal office, and for increasing spending on chartered flights and limousines. It was also rereported Monday that Steele was looking into buying a private jet.
Early in his chairmanship, other RNC leaders sought to check his ability to use committee funds.
On top of the committee’s money problems, Steele has been taking money for giving political speeches, an unusual practice for a party chairman.
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Shortly after beginning his term as chairman, Steele described Rush Limbaugh’s work as “incendiary” and “ugly.” He was forced to apologize.
He was also forced to recant later, after an interview with GQ in which he described abortion as an “individual choice,” which is wording favored by those who support abortion rights.
Steele has been forced to back away from some hard-line stances such as his suggestion last year that he would withhold funding from any GOP senator who supported the economic stimulus package.
He angered leaders of the GOP’s campaign efforts when he said around the New Year that he didn’t think his party would retake Congress this cycle and didn’t know whether it was even prepared to do so.
Steele has suggested that Mitt Romney didn’t win in 2008 because Americans were concerned about Mormonism.
He has also said he was going to give Indian-American Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) some “slum love.”
And early this year, when discussing his book on Sean Hannity’s TV show, Steele used the phrase “Honest Injun” while making a point. That phrase is generally seen as offensive to American Indians.
Steele has been fodder for late-night comedians and bloggers, who have made fun of the manner in which he has tried to inject his African-American heritage and personal style into the Republican Party.
Early on, Steele launched an “off the hook” campaign to attract young minority voters by applying party principles to “urban-suburban hip-hop settings.”
More recently, Steele was featured posing in pictures with RNC interns, including one in which he appears to be proposing to a female intern.