Fear and loathing in the RNC 

Among members and insiders at the Republican National Committee, the feelings about chairman Michael Steele boil down to this: Many would be delighted if Steele were to leave the committee and take his controversies with him, but no one, at least so far, is willing to call on Steele to step down.

"I think all things being equal, a different chairman would be desirable," says one RNC member unhappy with the scandal surrounding the L.A. nightclub matter. "But nobody wants to be the first one to say that. It's back to the old adage that when Steele loses, we all lose, and there is a great deal of desperate hope that something else will happen and we won't have to do anything -- that he'll either shape up or decide to move on."

"I would say people are just embarrassed," says another committee insider. But taking action against Steele "takes organization, and I haven't talked to anybody in any state in the last three days who isn't working full time to elect Republicans." With the November mid-term elections just seven months away, taking time from that effort to debate Steele's future would be "a distraction," this insider said.

That doesn't mean that some people in and around the RNC aren't making provisional plans. "The thinking ranges from doing nothing to starting a full-court press to get rid of him," says one member. "I don't think either one of those extremes is acceptable. The wonderful thing would be if he got an offer he couldn't refuse to run for some office in Maryland, but I don't expect that to happen." What will take place instead, this member said, will likely be "a little more prickly relationship between Steele and a great deal of the RNC, because he is not helping our candidates, and he is not helping the RNC."

The biggest concern among members and insiders is not the general level of embarrassment. It's money. There is no doubt that Republicans are fired up and have hopes of re-taking one or both houses of Congress this November. That kind of enthusiasm leads to a lot of contributions. But even though the RNC took in a record amount of money in March -- $11.4 million -- members are worried that a) it is being spent too quickly and without enough accountability, and b) that the flow of contributions will ultimately slow down if the committee continues to be involved in scandal. As evidence, critics point to the fact that the RNC has raised about $120 million since the 2008 election but now has just $9.5 million in cash on hand.

"There's a great deal of irritation over the profligate spending and the opaque accounting," says the RNC member. "We have raised a ton more money than we've raised before and we have less money in the bank at the end of the month. Where did all the money go?"

Committee officials point out that there have been three high-profile off-year elections -- the Massachusetts Senate race and governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey -- in the past six months. They took their toll on the committee's finances. And all three ended in smashing Republican victories. While committee members are happy with those results, with November approaching, they're still scared about having so little money in the bank.

Of course, Steele can rightly point out that he was in the chairman's seat for those three smashing victories. Doesn't he deserve some credit for that? Despite the problems, the chairman has his defenders; some committee members are not happy with the situation at the RNC but don't blame Steele himself. "I think overall it was maybe some of the people that he had in charge, because he can't be everywhere or do everything," says another member. But focusing on Steele's problems would be a distraction, he continued, and "We can't take our eye off the ball, which is winning elections."

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