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‘Steele Is Really Setting Us Far Back With His Comments’

Two must-read pieces on the RNC and Michael Steele today from Reid Wilson and Ralph Hallow, the best reporters on that beat. Wilson reports on a tense “conference call between senior Congressional communicators, House and Senate aides.”

A senior Senate aide brought up Steele’s comments, arguing that he was ruining what should be several days of glowing press for the GOP in the wake of retirement announcements from Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Chris Dodd (D-CT).

“Steele is setting us far back with his comments and it needs to stop,” the aide said, according to 2 sources who were on the call.

RNC research director Jeff Berkowitz called the Senate aide out of line, but the aide called Steele a “fool,” sources said.

In an effort to soothe feelings, a senior House aide interrupted and said he sympathized with RNC aides. But, he added: “You’re putting our bosses in tremendously difficult situations.”

A senior RNC press aide admitted the shop had no control over Steele’s interviews as he embarks on a book tour to sell his blueprint for a GOP comeback. Steele has hired a public relations firm, the RNC aide said, and the press shop has no control over when interviews are scheduled.

After an awkward silence, another aide spoke up: “You really need to have him be quiet.” The call ended shortly thereafter.

Hallow reports that some donors and RNC members are closing their wallets (to the RNC, not to other GOP groups) as a reaction to Steele’s self-promotion, which includes a book tour that’s being scheduled independently of the RNC. Again, both stories are worth reading, but this behavior shouldn’t really surprise the Republicans who elected Steele one year ago. Steele ran for the job as a celebrity in his own right, a fantastically charismatic spokesman whom networks and colleges were already booking to talk about conservatism. At the first-of-its-kind debate between RNC chairman candidates, Steele and Steele alone had campaign signs in the audience.

Republicans might be taken aback by the scope of Steele’s self-promotion, but it shouldn’t be surprising. That said, one reason Steele was so safe in his job last year was Republican worry over the optics of booting a chairman — the first African-American chairman, no less — when it was already at rock bottom. There’s more Republican optimism now, and more African-American Republican candidates like Lt. Col. (ret.) Allen West who can speak to the party’s diversity.

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