THE TALKING HEAD
MICHAEL STEELE, THE FIRST BLACK CHAIRMAN OF THE REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE, HAS BEEN PILED ON AND PUNCH-LINED BY HIS OWN PARTY. NOW OUT OF POWER, STEELE REVEALS THE BACKSTABBING, THE MONEY GRABS AND RACE TROUBLES AT THE RNC. BUT CAN THE HIP-HOP-LINGO-SPEWING POLITICO FIND HIS WAY BACK IN THE HEEZIE?
MICHAEL STEELE, THE CONTROVERSIAL former head of the Republican National Committee, folds his tall frame into a booth in a Midtown Manhattan hotel restaurant. Before he can complete his thought—one of the many bits of evidence he’ll stack against the Republican establishment he picks the fruit out of his oatmeal and sighs. “I’m sorry,” he says, with a shake of his head. “I don’t know why people put shit in oatmeal.” He fishes out a few more pieces. “I don’t even know what this stuff is. And why is it in my oatmeal? Ugh.”
It’s just after 9 a.m., a few days away from Christmas, and Steele has been up since some ungodly waking hour. He spent the first part of the day on the alarmingly tame set of MSNBC’s Morning Joe—a political gabfest for early risers and cable news junkies. All the pieces of the man were on full display: the pinstripe suit, the broken wreath of hair trimming his crown, the wire-rimmed glasses, the grizzly mustache and the penchant for lacing his talks with hip-hop vernacular.
He sparred with show host Joe Scarborough, commenting on Obama’s growing approval (“The [GOP] never had this guy”), attack ads, and the sorry state of the Republican party (“They are so off message”).
Michael Steele was definitely in the house, or as Barack Obama once famously mocked—using Steele speak—he was “in the heezie.”
Now, the man who carefully plucks raisins out of his oatmeal is building the foundation for a new house of Steele. Since he lost the RNC chairmanship in a bitter runoff in January 2011, he refuses to go quietly into the night. He’s traded his Fox News gig for an MSNBC slot, where he regularly pundits alongside unapologetic “lefties” like Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews. Yet, his new alliance provides a surprisingly favorable platform for his brand of talk. It’s clear that the first Black chairman of the RNC is blazing a new trail, somewhere in Republican exile.
“I wasn’t their cup of tea,” he says of the GOP power players. “I didn’t play ball the way they wanted me to. And going into a presidential election, they certainly didn’t want me to control the money.”
He contends that his attempts to distribute money in a more balanced manner earned him enemies in high places.