With the Republican presidential primaries moving through Mississippi and Alabama, with no clear end in sight, the GOP brass is looking internally looking for someone to blame for the current primary schedule, and they have found that person in former RNC Chairman Michael Steele.
Steele, who was RNC chair from 2009 to 2011, changed the primary calendar and mandated that the early voting states, such as Iowa and Michigan, allocate delegates by the percentage of the vote instead of a winner-takes-all.
“I wanted a brokered convention,” Steele told Mother Jones magazine. “That was one of my goals. A little chaos is a good thing, particularly in a system that tends to be moribund.”
The changes have led to an elongated primary process that has seen frontrunner Mitt Romney struggle to gain breathing room from his two nearest competitors, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Romney currently leads with 454 delegates, but he is a far cry from the 1,144 needed to clinch the nomination.
The campaign has turned ugly, and while it is compared to the protracted Democratic campaign of 2008, many in the GOP feel that the process is hurting their chances against President Barack Obama.
“This is like watching a Greek tragedy,” said Sen. John McCain, the 2008 GOP nominee, in the Boston Herald on February 28th. “It’s the negative campaigning and the increasingly personal attacks. It should have stopped long ago. Any utility from the debates has been exhausted, and now it’s just exchanging cheap shots and personal shots followed by super PAC attacks.”
Former first lady and presidential mother, Barbara Bush called the GOP Primary “the worst campaign” that she has ever seen. She added, “I hate that people think compromise is a dirty word. It’s not a dirty word.”
After Steele’s Mother Jones interview, he attempted to backtrack from his brokered convention statement, which is the worst fear of the Republican brass. The fear of more money being spent on primary candidates and backroom deals, as well as speculation that another candidate — such as Sarah Palin or Chris Christie — could come in to swipe the nomination.
“To be clear, I have never said it was mine or the committee’s goal to create a brokered convention,” Steele said. “We effectively lengthened the process and allowed for more proportional voting, which had nothing to do with who runs or how they would run their campaign. And on that point we could not predict this outcome.”
Steele continues to stand by his decision and feels that it has opened up the Primary process for the smaller states that have often gone unnoticed, including Mississippi, Alabama, Wyoming, and Idaho. He also said that he would have no problem with a brokered convention, but said that was not his intended goal while serving as RNC Chair.
“A brokered convention does not mean a third person [comes in and gets the nomination],” Steele told Mother Jones, “A contested convention is with two or three guys or gals within two-to-three hundred votes [who] have to negotiate their way. That excitement is healthy for the party and delegates are actually involved in the process.”
The primary rolls on with no real end in sight, and Steele’s decision to change the primary map has not been the only reason for the long process. Romney’s struggles to connect with voters, including his well-documented issues in Michigan and the South, have helped keep his opponents in the race, while the incumbent Obama’s poll numbers have improved.
Steele believes that a long primary could have the same effect on the GOP nominee that the long 2008 Democratic primary had on President Obama.
“I have said I believe this process has allowed the base — especially folks in post Super Tuesday states — a greater opportunity to compete,” Steele said. “That has been a good thing. How the candidates compete is up to them.”
Follow Jay Scott Smith on Twitter at @JayScottSmith