Shock jock Steele does his best to get fired 

If Republicans won't oblige Michael Steele by firing him at their winter meeting later this month, he may have to find a reason to quit.

Steele has been goading his critics within the Republican National Committee, who by now probably comprise a majority of the group's 168 members. Those who don't like his style should "shut up" and "get a life," Steele says.

"'If you don't want me in the job, fire me," Steele dared in an ABC Radio interview last week after the latest reports of influential GOPers criticizing his first year in office.

No doubt, getting fired by the RNC would be a boon to Steele. He has been working very hard to show that he is not a party man -- an odd goal for a party chairman.

Steele argues that he is catching flak because he is an outsider looking to shake things up in the world of country club Republicans.

"I'm the guy that they're afraid of because, guess what? I'm a tea partier, I'm a town haller, I'm a grass-roots-er," Steele told McGraw Milhaven on KTRS Radio in St. Louis.

Steele's real problem is that he has never understood the job. His claim that he is being targeted because of his tea party sympathies, like his previous claims that Republicans fear him because he is black, is an attempt to deflect attention from his sorry performance as chairman.

The chairman has been on a media tour to promote his bromidic book: "Right Now: A 12-Step Program for Defeating the Obama Agenda." But Steele's detox plan is partially aimed at the Republican Party.

It's certainly fair criticism to say that President George H.W. Bush lost in 1992 because he broke his tax pledge or that big spending in the George W. Bush era damaged the party's brand. Steele can hardly argue that these are controversial positions. The Bushes themselves have said almost as much.

But it's not what Steele said, it's that he's saying anything at all. Being a party chairman is about setting your own agenda aside to serve your party. It's mostly about fundraising, administration and building relationships.

But Steele cannot stop self-promoting, even when it distracts attention from the unfolding Democratic implosion.

When the Senate majority leader has to apologize for having praised the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama because he had "no Negro dialect" and the White House has spent a week recovering from its tone-deaf response to a botched terrorist attack, the last thing Republicans want to be talking about is their party chairman.

In addition to outrage over Steele's self-promoting book tour, Republicans are fuming that he has been profiting from private, paid speaking engagements. With contributions to the party slowing (in part because of Steele's me-first approach), it's particularly galling to the party faithful that its chairman is hustling speaking fees beyond his $224,000 salary.

Steele's latest misadventures come after he angered, by turns, almost every constituency of the Republican Party.

Many of the RNC members who backed Steele last year over the incumbent chairman -- soft-spoken Kentucky banker Mike Duncan -- were supporters of Mitt Romney. One committee member explained to me that because Steele was not a Southerner, he would be "more friendly" to Mitt from Massachusetts.

When New Englanders such as Steele's Chief of Staff Ken McKay, former right-hand man to Rhode Island's Republican governor, showed up on the payroll, Romneyites were gratified.

But in May, Steele got carried away with a defense of John McCain's candidacy, saying that the "Republican base" had rejected Romney for his Mormonism and his policy flip-flops, particularly on abortion.

Even though it was offensive to some of his political patrons, Steele couldn't resist the urge to play pundit. And listening again to the clip, delivered while guest-hosting Bob Bennett's radio show, it's clear Steele missed his true calling as talk jock.

In fact, Republican operatives say Steele's move to drop big money on a national radio ad starring himself was part of what led to the departure of former Communications Director Trevor Francis.

The Washington Post's Dan Balz has compared Steele to Sarah Palin, saying Steele was really the one "Going Rogue." But Steele lacks Palin's credibility with the tea partiers with whom he claims solidarity.

That's why Steele is being so belligerent with party elders.

There's no future for a chairman who can't capitalize on Democratic self-destruction, but there might be one for a conservative martyr.

If the RNC takes Steele's suggestion and fires him later this month at its meeting in Hawaii, it could be a great launching pad for his career as the next big mouth of the Right.

Chris Stirewalt is the political editor of The Washington Examiner. He can be reached at

About The Author

Chris Stirewalt


Washington Examiner Political Editor Chris Stirewalt, who coordinates political coverage for the newspaper and in addition to writing a twice-weekly column and
regular blog posts.

Pin It

Speaking of...

More by Chris Stirewalt

Latest in Guest Columns

© 2019 The San Francisco Examiner

Website powered by Foundation