Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Why Michael Steele Won’t Go

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Michael Steele has bungled money and staff, regularly mugs and grandstands on network talk shows, brags about being hip, a street guy, and even complains that he, as President Obama, is also subject to a racial double standard. He has more detractors than any GOP leader this side of W. Bush, and that includes legions of Republican leaders. A handful of them publicly, and even more so privately, call for him to step down. That won’t happen. There are good reasons why.

The RNC still needs Steele for the very reason he was plucked for the lead role in the first place. In the wake of Obama’s smash White House win, he was the best hope to prevent a battered, beaten, and demoralized GOP had from being shoved to the netherworld of national politics. The GOP was widely ridiculed and dismissed as an insular party of unreconstructed bigots, Deep South, rural and, non-college educated blue collar whites. Steele gives the party an image sheen that is anything but white, rural and Deep South.

Obama’s win underscored the changing voter demographics. In the decade and a half between Clinton's presidential win in 1992 and Obama's win in 2008, the number of black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American voters soared to nearly one quarter of the nation's electorate. At the same time, blue collar white voters shrunk from more than half of the nation's voters to less than forty percent. Obama handily won the Hispanic and Asian vote and crushed Republican presidential rival John McCain with the black vote. He split close to even with McCain the votes of college educated whites. In the next four years, the number of non-white and youth voters will continue to climb and the white electorate overall will continue to decline. The Democrat's expanding core base of voters, like Steele, is more moderate, socially active, and mildly pro government; the diametric opposite of what the GOP purports to stand for.

The knock against Steele is that he burns money, and he does. But he can also raise money, and fundraising is still a big part of the RNC’s mission. An even bigger part of the mission is winning elections. Steele put his fingerprints all over the GOP’s Massachusetts’ senate and New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial wins. They effectively got the party off life support and made it even more war like in hammering Obama. And now there’s the very real possibility that the GOP can wrest one maybe two House seats from the Democrats in two bellwether special elections in Pennsylvania and Hawaii in May. Dumping Steele now would resend the terrible signal that the GOP is in disarray.

The RNC’s financial hijinks are not deal busters for the GOP. It has too many other ways to raise and funnel money to candidates and incumbents, as well as to expand and energize its voter base. The Republican Governor’s Committee, for instance, has raised tens of millions of dollars. And a newly formed GOP outfit, American Crossroads, announced that it will raise tens of millions more dollars too elect GOP candidates in the fall elections. Also, donors can give money directly to local and state campaign committees, as well as directly to the candidate campaign committees. With the GOP grassroots aroused, enraged, and in a frenzy over Obama and his policies, the many GOP fundraising committees will have little problem raising the cash they need to be competitive in the fall elections.

Steele has dual value to the GOP. In addition to being the moderate, free-wheeling, shoot from the lip, non-traditional Republican, that excites many and give the party a different look and feel, he’s comfortable at tea party rallies, and aggressively courts tea party leaders. GOP mainstream leaders may shrink in red faced embarrassment at Steele (and in a recent poll by the National Journal seventy percent want him out), the RNC sex club fiasco, its high living, jet setting ways, and feign even more embarrassment at the borderline racial antics and slurs, digs from some tea baggers, and ultra conservatives. But they know that the GOP would fall flat on its face without them. Their passionate belief in God, country and patriotism, little to no government, passionate defense of personal freedoms, is the political oil that has fueled the GOP’s machine for four decades, and assured the White House for Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr. and W. Bush.

Steele’s job is to keep the frontline troops engaged, keep the cash coming, and give the party a new free swinging, even confrontational style. GOP regulars will grumble about Steele’s antic, and the media will have a field day with them and him, but as long as he keeps winning elections, the self-designated hip chairman won’t go.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of How Obama Governed.