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June 4th, 2010

Michael Steele Must Go

By James Johnson

Last week, I was in Washington for some meetings with like-minded conservatives about moving the pro-liberty and pro-prosperity agenda forward during this time of growing economic uncertainty, escalating international tensions, and increasing bureaucratic encroachments on personal freedom and private enterprise.

During the meetings, I had a chance to talk with former RNC chairman and former governor of Virginia, Jim Gilmore. He has just been named the new president of the Free Congress Foundation, one of the conservative organizations founded by the late Paul Weyrich.

The Free Congress Foundation made a great move in selecting Gov. Gilmore to lead their organization. He will bring growth, intellectual heft, and a statesmanlike gravitas to the group. Gilmore is the right man at the right time.

I spoke with Gov. Gilmore several times in 2006 and 2007, when he was making the necessary stops in Iowa and New Hampshire, exploring a possible run for the presidency. Last weekend, I was reminded of why I like him so much — and for the purposes of this column, why the current RNC chairman, former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele, is unfit to lead the RNC.

I am not suggesting that the RNC bring Gilmore back. He did well at the post and moved on. But I am advocating a return to seasoned, mature, responsible leadership that is wholly lacking in Michael Steele.

Anyone who has known Jim Gilmore during his four decades of military service, private law practice, and elective public office, knows two things about him. First, that he possesses a broad and profound grasp of the essential political issues of our time. And second, that he leads with grace, dignity, and professional comportment.

After graduating from the University of Virginia, Gilmore served in the United States Army as a highly effective counterintelligence agent. He was stationed in West Germany when that ugly, gray, concrete wall divided East Berlin from West Berlin. Being fluent in German, his keen mind, natural instincts, and tight lips made him one of the Army’s best Cold War spies. And it taught him something else, namely, that words have consequences.

After his Army service, Gilmore went to law school, then into private law practice, then to a career of public service — being elected twice as the Henrico County prosecutor, then to the attorney general’s office, and then as the commonwealth’s 68th governor.

As the chief executive of a not-so-republican state, Gov. Gilmore reduced taxes by $1.5 billion, improved public education, and handled the 9/11 terrorist attacks on Northern Virginia with immediate, competent, and assertive executive action.

Yet for all his professional accomplishments, even more noteworthy are his personal qualities — things that do not show up in a resume, but which nevertheless stamp a man’s work — qualities such as a graciousness toward others, a dignity in speech and manner, and a humility in assessing himself.

Compare these mature qualities to the reckless antics exhibited by Michael Steele. His missteps as RNC chairman have mirrored the missteps of Barack Obama as president. Both men have been at their posts for only 16 months. Both men are becoming an embarrassment to their party.

Democrat legislators do not want Obama to come to their home district to campaign for them. And Republican homes do not want the RNC phoning to ask for contributions as long as Steele remains as chairman.

Steele was elected on January 30, 2009. But just five weeks into his term, he foolishly insulted the beloved radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh on national television.

On CNN, Steel said, “I am the de facto leader of the Republican Party. Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer. Rush Limbaugh’s thing is entertainment. Yes, It is incendiary. Yes, It is ugly.”

The next day, Rush said that careless and self-serving remarks like those show that Steele is unfit to lead the Republican Party. Rush also asked whether Steele (the RNC’s first black chairman) secretly wanted Democrat Barack Obama (the nation’s first black president) to succeed in his leftist agenda and thus win re-election.

Steele’s apology was quite revealing. And all too true. “I was maybe a bit inarticulate…. the words I said were not what I was thinking. It was one of those things where I was thinking I was saying one thing, and it came out differently. What I was trying to say…”

Steele essentially admitted that he cannot be trusted to speak coherently and responsibly when being interviewed on national television.

Then, in March 2009, Steele told GQ Magazine that he opposed a Human Life Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which would protect the life of all unborn children from the moment of conception.

That drew concern from former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, who stated that the RNC Platform calls for a Human Life Amendment, and that the party chairman should not be undercutting the sincere attempts of the party platform committee to outline conservative principles.

And what was Steele’s response to the Huckabee’s, Blackwell’s, and Perkins’ concerns? Judge for yourself: “I ask God, ‘Hey, let me show just a little love, so I absolutely don’t go out and kick this guy’s ass.’”

In April 2009, speaking at DePaul University, Steele stated that the Republicans have historically not given blacks a reason to join their ranks or to vote for Republican candidates. He did not bother to explain why 19th century freed slave Frederick Douglas, 20th century baseball star Jackie Robinson, and iconic civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. were all Republicans.

Then, on a statewide radio broadcast in August 2009, Steele compared Republican Congressman Roy Blunt — a man who has served Missouri as Secretary of State and with distinction in the U.S. House of Representatives — to human feces.

In December 2009, the conservative Washington Times revealed that Steele is now charging $20,000 plus exorbitant hotel expenses and first class air travel for his speaking engagements to do the job that the RNC chairman already gets paid to do.

Three former chairmen — Frank Fahrenkopf, Jim Nicholson, and Richard Bond — are asking why Steele’s $223,500 annual salary from party donors is not enough.

“Holy mackerel!” said former chairman Fahrenkopf. “I have never heard of a chairman — of either party — ever taking money for speeches. The job of the national chairman is to give speeches. That’s what the party pays him for!”

Steele’s response? Apparently first class air travel is no longer sufficient. He now wants the RNC to buy him a private jet.

Then last January, Steele told FOX News that the Republican Party would not be able to regain control of the U.S House of Representatives. Period. I guess no one told him that the job of the RNC chairman is not to undercut Republican efforts in a season which every political pollster and historian says will make the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 look like a yawner.

On top of all these missteps, Steele has added yet another. Two months ago, he billed the RNC nearly $2,000 for a non-committee staffer to visit Voyeur West Hollywood, a bondage themed nightclub featuring topless women dancers imitating lesbian sex.

Tucker Carlson, the conservative columnist and editor of The Daily Caller, has made six formal requests for interviews with Steele concerning this incident. Steele continues to rebuff him.

Ironically — and tragically — at the very moment when Republicans are poised to regain control of the Congress and put a legislative stop to President Obama’s leftward agenda, the voice and face of the Republican party seems recklessly determined to sink the ship.

Careless comments, self-aggrandizing statements, and morally questionable expenditures of donor dollars should have no place in the leadership of the Republican Party. The 50 state chairmen, 50 national committeemen, and 50 national committeewomen must throw him overboard now, before the November election.

The RNC needs a grown up at the helm. An honorable, dignified, seasoned leader who knows how to handle the weighty responsibilities of being the spokesman for a party with tens of millions of members.

Members of the RNC, do your duty. Remove Michael Steele.

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About the Author

James M. Johnson
James M. Johnson is the president of the Iowa Republican Assembly, which works to get constitutionally minded conservatives elected to leadership positions in the Republican Party, and to elective office on the local, state, and federal level. He has worked on over 50 political campaigns and holds an M.A. in public policy with a concentration in political communication.

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