RNC Chairman Michael Steele lashed out at embattled Gov. Mark Sanford on Tuesday, saying the South Carolina Republican had thrown the voters' trust back in their faces. Sounding like an angry parent, he scolded the governor, saying that he should have "known better."
But Steele didn't call on Sanford to step down from the governor's chair, saying such a decision would be left to the people of South Carolina. But in his second public comment on Sanford's admission to an extramarital affair with a woman in Argentina, he was hardly forgiving.
"It is a problem of leadership," said Steele in an interview on Fox News. "It is a failure of individuals to understand and appreciate why they were elected.... And when you throw that back in the voter's face this is the price you pay. So my heart goes out to Mrs. Sanford and the boys, but the governor should know better. That is not what leadership is about. It is not your personal agenda. It is about the service you bring to the community. That is what people expect. There is a higher standard for guys and gals who assume that mantle of public leadership. And we have got to live up to it. No doubt about it, Democrats and Republicans."
Added to those of Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, Steele's comments are the harshest rebukes to come from within the Republican Party. Other figures, notably Sen. Lindsey Graham (the godfather of Sanford's children) have expressed personal disappointment with the news but argued that this is largely a private matter. In the end, there seems to be little benefit for the GOP to rally behind Sanford's cause. The party is already reeling from a host of ethics gaffes and political embarrassments. And now strategists are beginning to wonder whether officials should step back a bit from their family values platform. If Sanford survives, in short, it won't be because figures like Steele make moves to ensure he stays in office.