The Campaign Spot

Is Michael Steele Really in Trouble? Or Standard Transition Bumps in the Road?

A longtime ally of Michael Steele expressed to NRO great disappointment over the developments of the public tiff with Rush Limbaugh. (The two men chatted Tuesday and insist, in Steele’s words, the relationship is “all good.”)

“There are people around Steele who are doing a disservice to him and to the party,” this longtime Republican says, describing an office where a “clique” of Steele aides greatly restricts access to the chairman, controlling his schedule and where he appears. Two names mentioned as part of the clique include Curt Anderson and Blaze Hazelwood. Both were aides to Haley Barbour when he was chairman of the RNC in the mid-90s.

The supporter characterizes the inner circle as obsessed with the internal politics of the RNC and egregiously unfocused on the problems facing Republicans at large. One source with familiarity with the office’s operations say that the staffers are even checking Steele’s personal e-mail and deleting messages they believe Steele doesn’t need to see. “People who have his best interests at heart aren’t getting a chance to talk to him.”

“As for restricting access . . . that’s a funny one.  There has never been a more accessible Chairman, ever,” Anderson told NRO. “As for checking Steele’s email, that’s a completely goofy and bizarre notion.”

Several weeks into Steele’s reign, the RNC does not have a new finance director or communications director. The ally laments, “right now, the level of disorganization within the RNC is worse than the McCain campaign.”

Anderson told NRO the lack of new directors “is completely by design, and is very deliberate.”

“When you look back at Haley’s tenure, he took a long time to fill positions,” Anderson says. “In some cases it took the better part of a year.  We will not be rushed by the mass of job seekers or the professional critic class into hasty actions designed to please them.  Our process is deliberate.  For instance, thirty-one individuals have been interviewed for the positions of Communications Director and Research Director.  Steele is committed to getting the best and brightest, and that is what he will do.”

As for the particular comments about Limbaugh, this Steele ally laments that the new chairman, usually unflappable, was uncharacteristically unprepared.

“If you watch the tape, it’s very, very clear [Steele] didn’t say it with any malice towards Limbaugh; he walked into the trap,” the Steele ally says. “And they are setting that trap for every Republican who does a television interview this week. The question goes, ‘Rush Limbaugh is the new spokesman for the party, and isn’t what he said so terrible?’ There are three responses to that. The first is yes, which gets you in trouble. The second is no, which gets you in trouble. The third response is, ‘look, Rush is a big boy and he can defend himself, I’m here to talk about more pressing issues.’ It was clear that Steele was not prepared for the trap nor did he have a prepared answer for that question. Every Republican who has a press secretary is running drills on that question, so they don’t get jammed up on it.”

“He hasn’t even been chairman a month and already he’s stepped in it,” says the supporter, who backed Steele’s RNC Chair bid and emphasizes he wants to see Steele succeed. “If in six months, he hasn’t been doing the ‘blocking and tackling,’ as MSNBC’s Chuck Todd puts it, that a chairman has to do, there are going to be a lot of people besides Rush who will be angry with him.”

Anderson said Steele and those around him expected to take some flak from some on their own side as he settled into the position. “The Chairman knows that many of the old guard are not fans of his, many tried to stop him from becoming chairman, and that many of them will root for his failure.  The Chairman is increasingly popular with Republicans outside the Beltway . . . . but things will be a bit tougher inside the Beltway . . . as is always the case.”

While the disappointed ally quoted above emphasizes he is not seeking a role at the RNC, Anderson notes that the personnel situation at the committee is almost inevitably going to lead to some disgruntled voices.

“We have over 1,400 resumes of folks looking for positions, and we won’t be able to hire that many folks,” he said. “So that will cause some problems here in DC.  When the Chairman took over, the RNC was at the same staff levels that it had been at the height of the Presidential election.  This of course is not sustainable.  Chairman Steele will run a leaner and hopefully more efficient operation here at the HQ, and will push as much action out to the states as possible . . . The Chairman pledged in his campaign to clean house at the RNC, he has done so.  Many inside the Beltway don’t like this, but it had to happen.  The last few elections didn’t go so well . . . and the grassroots have demanded change . . . as they should.”

There is one area where Anderson says that Steele and his team may have erred, and that is explaining the chairman’s transition plan to those outside the RNC. “It is a plan that is widely understood by the 168 RNC members, but not perhaps by folks outside of the RNC membership. It may be that we should have communicated this to a larger audience.  That would be a very fair criticism.”

UPDATE: A reader responds to Anderson’s comment:

“The Chairman is increasingly popular with Republicans outside the Beltway….”

What the heck is this guy smoking? It’s one thing to screw up. It’s another to screw up and insist “people love me”. I see nothing but dismay from Steele supporters on the blogs.

I report, you decide.

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