Michael Steele has maintained a Teflon-like resistance to criticism since he became the Republican National Committee chairman in 2008. And it appears he again will brush off calls for his resignation in the wake of his biggest gaffe to date, his criticism of the Afghanistan war, which he called “a war of Obama’s choosing.” But political observers say he just may have talked himself into a political graveyard.
“I think this is downhill all the way,” said political analyst Ron Walters of Steele’s political future. “It’s probably over because this was probably the best he was going to get in terms of a public position and he messed it up.”
In his most recent blunder, the former Maryland lieutenant governor criticized and misrepresented the nine-year military incursion in Afghanistan. “This is not something the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in,” Steele said during a July 1 speech in Connecticut. “It was the president who was trying to be cute…flipping a script demonizing Iraq, while saying the battle really should be Afghanistan. Well, if he’s such a student of history, has he not understood that you know that’s the one thing you don’t do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan?”
The comments spawned a clamor of calls for his ouster from the usual suspects and less common sources.
Steele’s remarks were “wildly inaccurate, and there’s no excuse for them,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), on ABC’s “This Week.” The former GOP presidential nominee added, “I think that Mr. Steele is going to have to assess as to whether he can still lead the Republican Party as chairman of the Republican National Committee and make an appropriate decision.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) added his own censure, calling the chairman’s remarks an “uninformed, unnecessary, unwise, untimely comment.”
William Kristol, editor of the conservative publication The Weekly Standard came right out and asked Steele to leave after a tenure marked by “gaffes and embarrassments.” “ an act of service for the country you love: Resign as chairman of the Republican Party,” Kristol wrote in his July 2 column. He added, “…Your comment is more than an embarrassment. It’s an affront, both to the honor of the Republican Party and to the commitment of the soldiers fighting to accomplish the mission they’ve been asked to take on by our elected leaders.”
Since Steele issued a statement backpedaling from his remarks, and after a weekend spent reaching out to GOP leaders, he’s said little about his plans.
The chairman has so far survived the criticism heaped on him throughout a tenure fraught with allegations of anemic fundraising, questionable spending, staff shake-ups and cringe-inducing comments. And, politicos say, he’ll likely survive his latest lapse. Ousting the party’s first African-American chief would provide an unwanted spectacle heading into this year’s congressional races—something the GOP is unlikely to chance. Instead, the party is taking him out of the equation.
“Everyone is basically working around him,” said former GOP Rep. Vin Weber of Minnesota, who added that Steele has marginalized himself further with every gaffe.
“Republicans have sort of put together a mode of operation for this election cycle that does not put the RNC chairman in a central role,” Weber said. “That’s not the optimal way of handling things. But in a very strange way that gives him some protection because there’s no urgency to replace him—no matter how grave of a misstep he made.”
But when Steele’s term ends in the next six months, he will find it almost impossible to win a re-election to his office, Walters, the political analyst, said.
“I doubt his Republican friends will be willing to support him again,” the former University of Maryland professor of politics told the AFRO. “He’s proven he’s a liability in the public arena.”
Associated Press writer Liz Sidoti contributed to this story.