Friday, January 14, 2011

Michael Steele: OUT

Today, Maryland's Man of Steele ran smack dab into a wall of Kryptonite.

In case you haven’t seen it yet, here’s Michael Steele’s concession speech during today’s vote for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee. Steele dropped out after the fourth ballot, after consistently losing support during each stage of the balloting.

Clearly it was a speech Mr. Steele did not want to have to deliver, but I thought he soldiered through despite his obvious emotions and his disappointment. Some in the media have described the speech as gracious. It was, but I also thought it had something of an edge to it.

At one point, he seemed a little bitter when he complained about the "noise" surrounding his tenure, and voiced his hope the RNC members “appreciated” his legacy as chairman. Then I thought the speech might veer into “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore” territory, but it didn’t.

I had a lot of optimism when Steele became RNC chairman. Having observed him in close quarters in the State House as Lieutenant Governor, I thought he was gregarious, charismatic, and polished. He also delivered a consistently cogent message to audiences even more effectively than did Governor Ehrlich, for whom message discipline was a constant challenge.  I thought these skills would serve Steele well while stumping for GOP candidates, appearing on the Sunday morning news shows, and performing the other routine activities one expects from a national party chairman.

But Steele became enamored of the celebrity of his new position shortly after winning it. This led him to grant a series of wide-ranging “Who is Michael Steele” interviews to the non-political press, sometimes producing the kinds of gaffes which came to define his RNC tenure.

Unless you’re a political junkie like me, you have no business knowing or caring who chairs either major party.

Successful chairmen are the ones who quietly roll up their sleeves and commit to performing mundane and often thankless party building activities.  Aside from serving as party spokesman on occasion, chairmen belong in the background. A chairman’s success should be gauged not by his own celebrity, but only when his efforts result in more candidates who get to bask in the public adulation of winning on election night.

Unfortunately, Steele never was able to get past some of his early gaffes, as well as allegations of mismanagement at the RNC. In the process, he gained many critics and a few powerful adversaries – including two former RNC chairmen, a nationally syndicated conservative talk show host, and George Bush's political mastermind. In the end, presiding over successful 2010 midterm elections was not enough to save Steele. RNC members clearly concluded that the party won in spite of, rather than because of, his leadership.

So where else is Steele going to go? I’m guessing not back to Maryland. He’s run for statewide office twice on his own and lost both times. Further, a poll done last summer had his approval rating in Maryland at 19 percent. My guess is he rejoins the talking head circuit for a while, and takes a swing at reviving his law practice.

I'm equally curious to see where some of Steele's senior staff lands.

A onetime aide to former Maryland Democratic State Senator Leo E. Green, Belinda Cook worked as an office manager for Steele as Lieutenant Governor. She quickly clawed her way up the ranks, becoming Steele's go-to gal at both GOPAC and the RNC. As fellow blogger Joe Steffen reported, she is now living in oceanfront splendor in Florida, and working in a senior capacity on the staff of the 2012 GOP convention. Now that her patron is gone, will the beach party end for her, too?

Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that my single biggest disappointment with Steele stems from purely personal reasons.

Despite working with (and occasionally writing speeches for) Steele in the Ehrlich Administration, and penning a hagiographic op-ed piece about him in the Baltimore Sun after he became chairman, Steele and his team never sent me an invitation to the infamous lesbian bondage club fundraiser held in Los Angeles. Everyone knows I love LA and its edgy nightclubs, and certainly enjoy GOP politics, so including me seemed like a no-brainer. But Chairman Hizzle's hookup never came.


Still, I forgive you, Michael. I wish you the very best in your future endeavors.  And, if you hear of any future plans to hold a fundraiser at Score’s in Baltimore, show me some love, OK?


  1. I'm a little surprised that you had optimism regarding Steele. He's always been a political lightweight with little or no substance. His so called ability to deliver "cogent " messaging was limited to numerous comedic political ads designed to hide the fact that he could add little or no intellectual discourse to any debate. In fact,I can't recall one speech he gave that was anything other than ordinary.
    However he was(is) amusing in his clown like suits, bug eyed expressions and larger than life persona.

    His recurring gaffes are a continued reminder of what an embarrassment he is to the party.
    If he were auditioning for a Tyler Perry series I'd be all in.
    What were we thinking??

  2. Resume his law practice? Did he ever have one? Was he ever admitted to the Bar in Maryland?

    Rumor had it he couldn't pass the Maryland Bar exam. Is that true Richard?

  3. Don't know if he is barred in Maryland. After leaving office in 2006, he did join a DC law firm.

  4. I'll say this for Steele-- when he started his concession speech, and some committee members started to give him a standing ovation, he told them to sit down, thus sparing himself and those not inclined to stand much embarrassment. It would be nice if one RNC member in particular learned something from that.