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The incredible shrinking Michael Steele

The Republican National Committee members who elected Michael Steele knew what they were getting. Sort of. At the January 2009 meeting that gave Steele the job, there was plenty of worry about Steele's ability to run a large organization. J.P. Freire, writing then for the American Spectator, amplified what a lot of conservatives were hearing about Steele's management of GOPAC -- whether he spent enough money on candidates or too much money on his own travel. And Freire reported on an idea that never went anywhere -- a split chairmanship with a charismatic frontman representing the party on TV while a fixer worked behind the scenes.

Ever since Steele started taking on water last year, that "figurehead" idea has looked better and better. In May 2009, Steele pushed back against plans to devolve some of his responsibilities to staffers. But Reid Wilson, a must-read on everything RNC-related, makes a perceptive point here:

The RNC chairmanship means much less than it did when Steele took over, and it's not all Steele's fault. A key Supreme Court decision gave outside groups and corporations the greatly expanded ability to attempt to influence elections, and the rise of other outside groups bent on spending money on House and Senate races -- albeit largely in reaction to Steele's tenure -- is drowning out party money.

So Republicans elected Steele as a likable counterweight to Barack Obama. In pretty short order the Tea Party movement became a stronger counterweight to Obama -- look at the trouble Democrats get into when they criticize the movement -- and conservative donors and fundraisers took on the Obama agenda by themselves. Steele, instead of crafting some new, fuzzy, moderate GOP image, has been playing a lot of catch-up to the conservative base. I have yet to meet a Republican who thinks Steele can win another term, but I don't know why he'd try. It's not in the RNC's interest to elect another ready-for-TV frontman; it's in the interest of conservatives with those skills to strike out on their own, outside of the party.

By David Weigel  |  April 6, 2010; 11:50 AM ET
Categories:  Michael Steele , RNC  
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