The Talking Head: Michael Steele

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Don’t let the enemies and adversaries see you down. If you have to put a happy face on, you got to do it. That’s what I’ve done in my career to overcome the adversaries. And I also told him when you’re in a ditch, the first thing to do is stop digging.”

In light of the 2010 Republican Midterm election successes, Steele decided to run for a second term. To his surprise, the man who deposed him was his right-hand guy, RNC general counsel Reince Priebus. Of all the people who have come out against him, Priebus has secured several slots at the top of Steele’s shit list. When asked if he feels betrayed by his former friend, Steele sits up in his seat, his face drops and words rush out of his mouth. “Absolutely. Without a doubt or hesitation,” he says. “He set this thing up for a whole seven, eight months. He was in meetings with me and then would go and probably have meetings with others telling them what my strategy was, and they would counterstrategize. He was part of my inner circle, and I guess they saw him as the weakest link in the circle. And not once during that time did you say, ‘You know what chairman, I don’t think you should spend money over here,’ or ‘I don’t think you should spend time in this state,’ or ‘We shouldn’t give resources over here.’”

When Priebus was elected, he promised an RNC with “less drama,” and made a point to say he wouldn’t be on TV too much, a brash dig at his predecessor.

“He’s on TV all the time, and he’s not saying anything,” Steele says. “What’s the message of the party right now? It’s a talking point that nobody believes. How else do you explain the loss of momentum from 2010 till now? My God, we’re on the defensive on taxes? What are you kidding me? I may have been on the defensive on them attacking me because I said X or I said Y, but we were not on the defensive about what we believe.”

Several weeks after Steele talked to VIBE for this story, Priebus made his first major gaffe as RNC chairman, comparing President Obama to the disgraced Italian captain of the sunken cruise ship who ran his ship onto rocks and escaped to safety while his passengers struggled for their lives. His remarks caused a stir inside Washington, but there were no calls for his resignation. The Republican party mostly remained quiet. But one GOP voice didn’t let it pass. On MSNBC Steele called the analogy “unfortunate.” “I mean, people died in that situation,” Steele said. “[It was] too cute by none.”

IT’S NOT YET noon, and Steel has several more TV appearances lined up before he’ll catch a train back to Maryland. His new position as straight talking pundit has opened him up to another audience and new possibilities for reinvention. Before he leaves the restaurant, he offers some insight into his future.

“What is consistent between the Fox News audience and the MSNBC audience is people tell me the same thing,” he says. “[They say, ‘I appreciate the fact that you’re honest. You’re looking at the warts and the good stuff objectively.’ And that’s what I’ve always done. It’s not what people want in an RNC chairman, but that’s what I thought I needed to bring to the job in order to get around some corners we needed to get around.”

When asked if he had plans to run for office again, he rubs a hand over his smooth head. “I am not sure. Look, there’s a governor’s race in 2014, and I’ll take a look at that,” he says, before citing his previous support there. “I look at it and go, ‘There’s a pathway, but you’ve got to be brave enough, bold enough, and yeah crazy enough to do it.”