The Talking Head: Michael Steele
“Oh my God, you would have thought that I had just damned people to wearing bling and their pants cut around their behinds,” he says. “I wasn’t saying that Republicans had to take on a hip-hop culture. Republicans had to understand the culture we are in. You’ve got to make it relevant for folks.”
The “hip-hop Republican” response set the tone for how Republicans would deal with their chairman’s flubs. Soon after, he called the Afghanistan war one “of Obama’s choosing,” though it was George W. Bush who launched the offensive. Influential conservative columnist Bill Kristol and former RNC chief of staff Tom Cole immediately called on Steele to resign.
However, his biggest quibble was with radio host Rush Limbaugh, when he suggested that Limbaugh was simply an entertainer who sometimes says incendiary things. He was later forced to release a statement to smooth things over. By then, he was getting the message: His party was just not that into him.
“That was a good example of what was to come,” Steele says. “If any other person would have said that, you would have seen the party rally around him and protect him. And give him cushion and help explain it and give him context. I had none of that.”
Frustrated with the lack of support, Steele confronted Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, demanding to know why Republicans kept throwing him under the bus.
“It was more or less a rhetorical question, ‘Why can’t I as national chairman get the support of my party instead of being attacked at every turn?’” says Steele. “I know I said some things that kinda set people off their rockers, but it wasn’t so bad that it required people to call for my resignation in return. Realize that 30 days into the job was the first call for me to be fired. How in the hell does that happen? I still hadn’t even organized the building yet.”
During this low period, Steele found support in an old friend who understood how to bounce back from a tragedy.
“I called him up after the debacle when the RNC was trying to get him to step down as chair,” Mayor Barry said via phone. As a result of a sting operation in 1990, Barry was caught on video smoking crack with a prostitute, but now serves as councilman in D.C. However bad Michael Steele felt about his career, if Barry could survive his shameful ordeal, there was hope for Steele’s reputation. “I told him that you can’t give up and you got to stay the course beat and battered, but you cannot let those forces against you succeed. You have to exhibit strength.