Rather than broadening the appeal of the party, Steele’s frequent public gaffes were embarrassing at best and counterproductive at worst. Cadillac could rebrand itself because it had the ability to actually produce a different kind of product that would appeal to the younger generation. But, you can’t repackage conservative principles like limited government and fiscal responsibility. These are ideas that will never be either hip or cool, because they necessarily require hard work and deep thought. The mission of the RNC and its chairman is therefore not to convince voters that electing Republicans is the trendy thing to do, but that it’s the necessary thing to do – that doing so is essential if the future of the nation is to be secured.
Worse, Steele often seemed to be more interested in promoting Michael Steele’s personal agenda than in protecting the interests of the party he was elected to serve. Steele accepted fees for speaking engagements, for example, even though promoting the party and its ideals is a primary part of his job description. At the same time, he was apparently a disinterested administrator, overlooking RNC compensation for private jets and almost $2,000 at Voyeur West Hollywood, a bondage-themed night club featuring topless women dancers imitating lesbian sex. In the big picture, such expenditures are barely noticeable when the federal government spends trillions without so much as an afterthought. And yet, this sort of irresponsible behavior inevitably undercut the core message Republicans were trying so hard to impart: that public entities should spend money wisely and cut waste to the bone. Time and again, Steele made decisions that reinforced the perception that Republicans expected and received the trappings of a privileged, moneyed elitist class whose mantra is “do as I say, not as I do.”
In announcing his decision to seek re-election Steele played the race card, saying: “Who you elect as our next Chairman will speak volumes about our willingness to truly be the party of Lincoln.” That was a very unfortunate choice of words, implying that if the GOP rejects Michael Steele, the RNC would do so because it’s more concerned about the color of Steele’s skin than the wisdom of his policies. Steele ought to know better. If he truly aspires to be the sort of public servant that he claims to be, then Michael Steele needs to come to grips with the fact that his party is more concerned about the wisdom of his policies than the tone of his skin. The Republican Party gave Steele a chance to lead. And, while he’s had some positive impact, the bottom line is that Michael Steele has done more to distract the electorate’s attention away from core conservative principles than to focus it upon them. His term as chairman of the RNC was a noble experiment, but it’s not the sort of experiment that Republicans should wish to repeat if they’re going to preserve their momentum heading into the next election.
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