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Michael Fauntroy

Michael Fauntroy

Posted: May 26, 2009 01:08 PM

Michael Steele's (Many) Problems


Michael Steele has been under a barrage of criticism from fellow Republicans since his ascendancy to the chairmanship of the Grand Old Party. Along the way, he has embarrassed himself and his supporters with some of his rhetoric and for not seeming to show where he wants to take the Party. But it's not all his fault. The GOP is in nearly as bad shape as the domestic automakers, so it's probably accurate to believe that he was handed the keys to a beat up Ford Pinto, not a brand new Rolls Royce. While he is the lightning rod, the GOP's problems can't easily be fixed -- by anyone. Be that as it may, Steele's stewardship of the Republican Party leaves much to be desired.

It's not like he entered the job with a mandate for change. He was the default winner of the chairmanship. One leading candidate was eliminated after the "Barack the Magic Negro" CD snafu. Another had the temerity to seek the job despite membership in a racially exclusive country club -- that's not the resume line that suggests the GOP is really interested in having a "big tent." Steele's win did not come with the momentum or wide range of enthusiastic support that one usually has entering this position, so his blunders and missteps have been magnified.

He got mocked at the White House Correspondents Dinner and has had a series of media blunders that have called into question his judgment and leadership. He embarrassed himself by capitulating to Rush Limbaugh after showing some political bravery (and recognizing the facts) by stating that the bloviating talk show host was an incendiary force within the Party. Conservatives seem to be the only ones who don't understand that most people don't want to support a party whose most important figure is a talk show host. Steele's honesty was followed by a hat-in-hand appearance on Limbaugh's show. That event, a month into Steele's term, showed everyone that the chairman is neither feared nor respected by Limbaugh (and those of his ilk).

Steele will likely be among the fall guys after the 2010 elections which, at this early date, will look a lot like the 2006 and 2008 ones. The rush to regionalize the GOP will be nearly complete by that time. For the sake of a two-party democracy, let's hope that moderates will find the strength they need to push back against a conservative onslaught that has nearly destroyed the GOP.

Michael K. Fauntroy is an assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University and author of the book Republicans and the Black Vote. He blogs at MichaelFauntroy.com.