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Dried Up, Michael Steele's Last Stand

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Conventional wisdom would dictate that all things political look good for Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele.

As the GOP's first African American Chair, Steele now holds the honor of presiding over one of the most successful electoral cycles for the party in generations. Republicans have not witnessed a wave of this size and scope since 1948, when Harry S. Truman was President. Steele's gaffes, the patronizing hip-hop parodies and butt of Presidential jokes all seem tucked away in a parallel dimension. Whatever it is he changed or claimed to have restructured at the RNC - from wholesale firing of entrenched staff to streamlining the fundraising chains and allowing third party groups to prosper - seems to have worked.

Steele can lay claim to it all. He can easily say: "I saved you from the precipice." The irony is as bittersweet as a stack of sour lemon balls. A Black man saved the modern Republican Party.

His resume is a solid look of political conquests: A Republican majority of 61+ House seats and growing. 29 Governors. 19 State legislatures - proving that his grassrootsy state-by-state strategy may have worked. Redistricting power cheese for the next decade.

In addition, the GOP also witnessed its first spurt of color in a long time. Two new Black Republican Members of Congress (the true gauge of Steele's effectiveness as RNC Chair); two Hispanic Governors out West; a Black Lt. Gov. in Florida; and an attractive Indian-American Gov. in South Carolina. A Cuban Sen.-elect who is clearly being tapped for 2016 and beyond.

You can't beat that. The GOP actually looks fresh.

You would think he'd run unopposed come January when the RNC sits down for its winter meeting. Steele is as stubborn as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as hardheaded as his balding dome will take him. He has no intention of stepping down. He's daring the cigar-chomping country club White boys in the back room to take him on; staring down the Tea Party Rambos, charging his First Street office door. Bring it on.

But, the Republican Party has other plans for Steele as the calls for his resignation grow louder. He's run his course. The novelty of a Black Chair is worn off with few additional Black voters to show for it. Plus, they've got a pair of Black Republicans in Congress - the quota is filled times two with great optics. The luster of that bright round token has worn to a dull shade of gray, as threadbare as President Barack Obama's current approval ratings. Sure, the party might be dancing like pirates around its newfound political treasure chest, but was that really because of Steele? Or, was it simply good timing? Being in the right chair at the right time while watching the perfect political storm brew - a sputtering economy mixed with visceral voter rage over unemployment.

"Republicans want to make sure it gets done right in 2012," says one well-placed longtime former Republican aide speaking on condition of anonymity. "Steele might look good on paper, but folks don't want to take a chance he keeps putting his foot in his mouth."

Republicans, even in this volatile, new-normal-double-digit-jobless rate environment want long term majorities, solidified by a larger majority in the House and eventual control of the other two levers. Steele's performance as Chair is like nails on a chalkboard, a curvy collage of bad press triggered by a mouth that doesn't think. A series of financial missteps and mini-scandals also make the rank-and-file nervous about Steele's ability to simply run the organization. And, his failure to match or surpass the money raised by his counterpart on the left - leaving GOP candidates to rely on PACs and 527 groups - causes much angst within the party.

Still, he has fans and it's hard to just let him go. Steele won't go down so easily, at least not until "they find him a spot on a corporate board and a gig where he's making no less than a million a year," says the source.

But, as calls persist for Steele's ouster, he may very well find himself chair-less. He's like Donovan McNabb, sidelined after a two-minute gag on field, the White coach shunning his star Black quarterback who brings to plate multiple conference wins and a Superbowl show. Yet, with so many people of color elected to federal and statewide office, it's a risk they're willing to take. We're good, they'll say. You can't peg that "bigot" label on us anymore. And, once it's done, Steele will more than likely have little to say about it.

-- CHARLES D. ELLISON

(originally appeared in Politic365.com)

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