By Cheri Jacobus - 04/15/10 11:00 PM EDT
I’ve considered Michael Steele a friend for a dozen years. My first client when I started my consulting business, Michael was a late draft pick by GOP gubernatorial candidate Ellen Sauerbrey to run for Maryland comptroller in 1998. He lost, but had at least dipped his toe in the waters.
We then had several discussions about his political future, and what might be possible. He had served as chairman of the Prince George’s County Republican Party, and now he would be vice chairman of the Maryland state GOP.
When Steele threw his hat in the ring for chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) in 2009, after a stint as chairman of GOPAC, he’d built enough of a résumé to be a contender, but was hardly a shoo-in for the job. A decent amount of experience, acceptable but not stellar performances in his various political roles, plus Fox News appearances made him a legitimate candidate, but one who would have to fight to get the job. He did just that, finally securing the chairmanship on the sixth ballot — the most ever for any RNC chairman. Clearly, the RNC viewed him as qualified, but were not dazzled. They needed convincing, and he worked hard to earn his victory.
Michael’s experience, tenacity and national media exposure scored him the win. Nothing in the process indicated race played a part in his getting the job, just as nothing calling for his resignation is about race. But his recent claim that “margins for error” are slimmer for him because he is African-American should serve as the last straw for RNC members who’ve held their tongues and winced their way through Steele’s gaffes and missteps — particularly for those who’ve been flagellated by the left with accusations they put Steele in the job because he is African-American. The RNC deserved not one iota of the barbs and charges that they elected Steele based on race. Yet they now appear to be terrified of removing him from his post due to the inevitable race-orientated criticism they would face from the left. Steele’s own disturbing racial comments could be construed as a threat that he is willing to scream racism even louder if his critics don’t pipe down.
That was the final straw for me. And I really like the guy.
At last weekend’s Southern Republican Leadership Conference, Steele said, “I’m the first here to admit that I’ve made mistakes and it’s been incumbent on me to take responsibility to shoulder that burden, make the necessary changes and move on.” He obviously is unwilling to accept that most Republicans believe the change that needs to be made is replacing him as RNC chairman. Instead, he fired staff, blamed the media and seems intent on scapegoating others for his self-inflicted wounds. At this critical point for the nation and the GOP, it has to stop. Now.
It’s telling that GOP heavyweights tap-dancing around statements of support for Steele have made an end-run around him by establishing outside campaign organizations to which GOP donors can write checks, rather than to Steele’s RNC. The message could not be clearer.
Michael Steele should do what’s best for his party and resign as RNC chairman. He can still salvage what little remains of good will toward him by putting party first and cease and desist with the race-mongering and blaming others for his growing list of screw-ups. He can stop making it all about Michael. In fact, the glare of the spotlight is so searing that until he steps aside, it will continue to be all about Michael.
It is impossible at this point for Michael Steele to be an effective leader of the RNC. However, if he exits now and works enthusiastically to facilitate a graceful transition for a new chairman (Liz Cheney, anyone?), Michael lives to fight another day and could very well have a political future down the road. That is my hope for him.
Jacobus, president of Capitol Strategies PR, has managed congressional campaigns, worked on Capitol Hill and is an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management. She appears on CNN, MSNBC and FOX News as a GOP strategist.