WASHINGTON -- Former RNC Chairman Michael Steele has been held responsible for the length of the current Republican primary season, which has become toxic and damaging in tone as it has continued on. He helped craft the primary map, doing so in a way that would prolong the process -- primarily by scheduling early contests in which states allocate their delegates proportionally, rather awarding the full slate to the winner.
With former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney bleeding support among independents and President Barack Obama's prospects improving, Steele has stood by his decision, arguing that it has engaged Republican voters in states that often go ignored. Still, it was fairly shocking to see him quoted, on Monday morning, defending the idea of the primary ending in convention-floor chaos.
"I wanted a brokered convention," Steele told Mother Jones. "That was one of my goals."
Reached by email, Steele quibbled with the quote. He acknowledged that he personally would have no problem with a brokered convention, were one to occur, but he insisted that it wasn't a pursuit of his while serving as RNC Chair.
"To be clear, I have never said it was mine or the committee's goal to create a brokered convention," he said. "We effectively lengthened the process and allowed for more proportional voting which had nothing to do with who runs or how they would run their campaign. And on that point we could not predict this outcome."
Mother Jones, he added, is "correct in the quote." But the context "was about my personal view (everyone always talks about wanting a brokered convention). It was not something the committee set out to design which is the point I want to make clear."
If Steele is indeed comfortable with a brokered convention, he is one of very few Republicans who publicly feels that way. The more widely held belief is that such a scenario would be utterly disastrous, sapping momentum from the party and forcing the eventual nominee to spend large amounts of money and engage in nefarious backroom dealing.
Steele has never had problems butting heads with other members of the GOP establishment. And when asked about the quote, Mother Jones editor David Corn, the author of the article in which it appeared, relayed some additional comments the former chairman made over the course of their conversation.
"A brokered convention does not mean a third person [comes in and gets the nomination]," Steele told Corn. "A contested convention is with two or three guys or gals within two-to-three hundred votes [who] have to negotiate their way. That excitement is healthy for the party and delegates are actually involved in the process."
This may be an idealized version of how a brokered convention would occur. But at the same time, the idea that Steele and his primary calendar are to blame for all damage done during the course of this primary is somewhat problematic. Romney's weaknesses as a candidate were evident before delegates were awarded. The decision, made by his allied super PAC, to start airing negative ads, also came well before anyone voted.
"I have said I believe this process has allowed the base -- especially folks in post Super Tuesday states a greater opportunity to compete," Steele said. "That has been a good thing. How the candidates compete (e.g. negative ads) is up to them."