Steele traps Republicans in race card shuffle

OPINION - Is it just money or is it also a matter of Michael Steele's race? It's hard to say...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Rumor has it the GOP is gearing up to replace Michael Steele as chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC). At first glance this isn’t too surprising, considering Steele himself has made so many gaffes you would think he was trying to lose the job.

Yet firing him doesn’t quite add up though once you take a look at the victories he’s notched under the his belt during his RNC tenure. He’s presided over gubernatorial victories in Virginia (expected but nice) and New Jersey (far from expected), and Scott Brown’s Senate victory in Massachusetts (deemed impossible until Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate, decided to play chicken with voters and got plucked).

More impressive still is that these victories occurred when the GOP had about as much momentum as a fantasy league team starring Brett Favre and Randy Moss. Not only was Steele able to build on the excitement created around these victories, he was also able to pour money into midterm races throughout the country. Steele has said he used Howard Dean’s successful 50-state strategy from four years ago as inspiration.

Click here to view a slideshow of Michael Steele’s most memorable missteps

“The Republican program, dubbed D2H — Delaware, the First State, to Hawaii, the 50th — sent money and staffers even to Democratic-heavy areas,” according to the National Journal. Furthermore, Frank Luntz, a celebrated Republican strategist known for ‘crafting messaging” (you know, twisting words like limbs at a Cirque du Soleil performance) has conducted surveys showing that early investments helped voters — the majority of which made up their minds months ago — to buy into GOP candidates. And buy voters did. Republicans picked up 60 House and 6 Senate seats, and reserved U-Hauls for many more governor’s mansions.

So why get rid of Steele now? What purpose does it serve?

Actually now is the perfect time to get rid of Steele. Because if you’re going to make a bad decision then you should at least have good timing. Fact is, many critical of the decision are going to attribute Steele’s removal to his being a minority and nothing more. Normally, Republicans would counter this assertion with a stern face and by pointing to the nearest black person that supports their views (whether they are sane or not — hence, Alan Keyes), a reaction that is the political equivalent of the proverbial justification: “I’m not racist. I have a black friend.”

But Republicans can save that get out of jail free card for later. Critics’ charges won’t stick after a midterm election that saw a wave of conservative minority victors, including: Rep. Tim Scott (SC), who became the first black to represent the GOP in the deep south in more than 130 years; Rep. Allen West, black, representing Florida; Nikki Haley, Indian-American, and the first female governor of South Carolina; Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American, elected senator in Florida; four other Hispanics elected to Congress; and two Hispanics elected to governorships — Brian Sandoval (NV) and Susana Martinez (NM).

What’s the motive behind replacing Steele? Aside from the gaffes, Steele’s lack of relationship building with big money fundraisers is the biggest gripe. These fundraisers were turned off by Steele’s approach and vision. Luckily for Steele midterm elections don’t require the level of donor contributions that presidential elections do. So basically Steele’s mouth has written a check his tenure can’t cash and the RNC can’t afford to have bounce in 2012.

Is it just money or is it also a matter of Steele’s race? It’s hard to say, well at least for me, but maybe not for Steele himself. Earlier this year he had no problem plucking a shiny race card out of the deck when asked on Good Morning America if he has a slimmer margin of error because he is African-American. “The honest answer is yes. Barack Obama has a slimmer margin. A lot of folks do. It’s a different role for me to play and others to play and that’s just the reality of it. But you take that as part of the nature of it,” he responded. Yes, indeed. Even party chairman have to get used to it apparently.

The Frum Forum reported late yesterday that, according to a source inside the RNC, Michael Steele may not be running for reelection when his term ends in January. Reasons cited were both personal and professional, some of which were no doubt related to the scathing letter released by a former confidant, Gentry Collins, who served as the RNC’s political director. Notably in the letter Collins tries to add fuel to the ‘lack of donations’ fire. “In the last two non-presidential cycles of 2002 and 2006, the RNC raised $284 million and $243 million respectively…this cycle, the RNC has reported raising just $170 million.”

Did Collins take a deep sleep through the entire recession? To compare two election cycles that were very different from this one — 2002, just a year removed from 9/11 and fighting in Afghanistan was just ramping up; and 2006, when the economy was in full swing — is disingenuous. Clearly the timing of this letter intriguing. Collins is standing behind it, but I wonder who put the pen in Rip Van Winkle’s hand?