What’s Michael Steele to do? In yet another embarrassment for the Republican National Committee chairman, this week it was revealed that in February the RNC spent close to $2,000 at Voyeur, a bondage-themed California strip club, as well as tens of thousands of dollars on luxe hotels and private jets. Also, according to news reports, the RNC has on hand less than half of the cash it had when Steele took office last year.
When Steele was elected the RNC’s first black chairman he pledged to make the Grand Old Party more inclusive and accessible. In the past several years, the GOP has earned a bad rep for being essentially an exclusive club of Southern, middle-aged white men. To hear GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill tell it, however, the charge is both unfair and untrue.
Ironically, the characteristics that made the committee choose the colorful–and at times controversial—Steele over the other traditional Southern, middle-aged white men and another more conservative black candidate who were in the running, have sometimes made the party faithful wish they’d gone another way.
Since his election, Steele has faced a great deal of criticism for a variety of reasons, from his lavish spending habits to gaffes he’s had to immediately reverse or apologize for. During the strip club visit Steele was on his way home from the RNC’s winter retreat in Honolulu, Hawaii, according to the Daily Caller, which first reported on the expenses.
In January, Steele surprised—and infuriated–the party with the publication of a book titled “Right Now: A 12-Step Program for Defeating the Obama Agenda” and in a television interview on Fox News to promote the book, he said that the GOP has no chance of recapturing the House during November’s midterm elections. He’s also been criticized for making paid speeches.
According to one Republican Party operative, who asked to not be named, committee members seriously considered whether to formally rebuke Steele for both the book and his paid speeches and force him to cease the latter.
Steele’s response? “Fire me. But until then, shut up. Get with the program or get out of the way.”
He could easily afford to demonstrate such bravado, knowing it is highly unlikely that that the committee would vote out its first black chair. But unless Steele does an outstanding job of fundraising, winning back disenchanted donors, and helping Republicans win elections this fall, the party may decide that when his term ends in 2011 that he brings more change than they can stand.
When he first took office, Steele stated that one of his top priorities would be to broaden the Republican tent to include many more minorities. Steele says it’s still a goal.
According to the Republican operative, Steele has not only done an excellent job of reaching out to diverse communities but also has significantly diversified the staff at RNC headquarters. The RNC’s redesigned Website features GOP faces and heroes from various ethnicities.