Two weeks ago, amidst concern that Michael Steele's media exposure was creating serious political damage, the RNC chairman decided to guest-host William Bennett's national conservative radio program.
In a virtually unnoticed two-hour tour-de-force, the Maryland Republican sat in for the conservative talker on March 6, right as the controversy over his statements on Rush Limbaugh reached its height. And Steele didn't disappoint, lambasting Republicans for inserting earmarks in the omnibus, comparing Barack Obama to Richard Nixon, describing the current political climate "Armageddon between conservatism and liberalism" and Rahm Emanuel as a "master manipulator," saying the globe was cooling rather than warming, and touting the importance of education only to misstate a prominent historical figure's name.
"I love this battle because what I see right now is leading to the ultimate political Armageddon between conservatism and liberalism," Steele declared at one point. "And the idea that free enterprise, free markets, free people are going to battle an oppressive, repressive, domineering government. I love that. That's what we are lining up for you folks. So you better get ready, strap it on, because it's coming. And you better pick your sides, you better choose now."
In the wide-ranging and free-flowing program, Steele began with an exhale, saying: "I survived my first month as the new RNC chairman. I survived a pretty interesting week, where there was a whole lot of noise." From there, however, he jumped right back in to a host of controversial topics. He scoffed at his fellow Republicans, saying that the state parties should consider supporting challengers against Senators who voted for the stimulus, and offering his own reprimands as well.
"Those first principles, with respect to how we as Republicans, as conservatives view the economy, view wealth creation, have to be adhered to, they have to be supported," he said. "And those who don't put their reelection in harms way."
When a listener called in to complain that her congressman, Texas Republican Lamar Smith, had inserted earmarks into the omnibus spending bill only to defend himself by saying he voted against it, Steele laughed wildly.
"No he didn't?" said the bemused RNC chair. "They didn't tell you that ... You feel so much more confident now knowing that he put the pork in but didn't vote for it," he added, sarcastically.
Earlier in his brief tenure at the RNC, Steele's willingness to call out his fellow Republicans landed him in a bit of trouble. GOP officials stressed the need to protect seats and party unity. In the comments section on the conservative site FreeRepublic, it was clear that not everyone was happy with his remarks on Bill Bennett's show.
"Steele is now calling out members of the Republican Congress who 'are getting it wrong,'" read one entry. "And he used a sports analogy -- if a player isn't doing his job the coach replaces him. This makes me want to take up drinking again."
There were plenty of other remarks made during the Bennett show that could land Steele in some trouble. The RNC chair agreed wholeheartedly with a caller who compared the Obama administration to that of Richard Nixon.
"I'm going to tell you something," Steele replied. "You make such an important point, because I had a conversation earlier this week about the very point you just made about the Nixon administration. What you are seeing here, folks, unfold is nothing short of the Nixon administration played out in a different era and a different style. But the results and the effects are the same. You have H.R. Haldeman and Rahm Emanuel, these guys, the master manipulators, the master controllers in the background, moving and shaking the pieces, creating an enemies list, putting together the targets on our side. The whole strategy of demonizing Rush Limbaugh, which has been exposed now..."
And when a listener scoffed at the notion of global warming, Steele eagerly ran with the baton.
"Thank you, thank you," he said. "We are cooling. We are not warming. The warming you see out there, the supposed warming, and I am using my finger quotation marks here, is part of the cooling process. Greenland, which is now covered in ice, it was once called Greenland for a reason, right? Iceland, which is now green. Oh I love this. Like we know what this planet is all about. How long have we been here? How long? No very long."
Greenland, for the record, likely had forestation some 450,000 to 800,000 years ago. But its name was derived, as is most commonly believed, from Erik the Red, who wanted to trick people into going to that island as opposed to the more hospitable Iceland.
The Greenland gaffe was not Steele's most glaring. Earlier in the program a caller asked him about the importance of education. The RNC Chair responded with a curious comment about the need to understand the differences between Hitler and Mussolini, as opposed to FDR and "his honor, the honorable Winston Churchill." Only, he spoke of "Roberto Mussolini" -- an obscure essayist, it seems -- as opposed to the much more infamous fascist, Benito.
"Education is key," said the RNC Chair. "It is where it begins, for all of us... If we understand the difference between Marxism, socialism and capitalism; if we understand the difference between a Roberto Mussolini, an Adolf Hitler, and a Franklin Roosevelt, and his honor the honorable Winston Churchill, if we know those differences than we can appreciate what these times mean. And how history is a precursor of things to come."
Mid-way through the program, a caller offered words up support for the embattled RNC chair. "Don't let them shut you up," the voice said.
Steele replied: "Nope, nope. That ain't happening."