Despite a tenure that was fraught with controversy and unfortunate gaffes, former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele is unapologetic. But he does have at least one regret.
“I think one regret is that I was never really given a fair shot to do the job and I wish I’d had that without all the machinations and maneuvering by those who were very clear that they didn’t want me to be chairman,” Steele told BET.com. “If they had spent less energy in trying to disrupt what we were trying to do and more energy in trying to help us get it right since they claimed there were all these problems, it would have been less dramatic a chairmanship.”
And drama ranged from Steele throwing a little “slum love” at Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and plans to give his party a “hip hop makeover” to questions about his fiscal management of the organization. Within the first few months of his chairmanship, Dr. Ada Fisher, the RNC’s few Black national committee members, was calling for him to step down and by the time the 2010 midterm election cycle began, he’d been pretty much sidelined by the more establishment wing of the GOP. When the party voted for its next chairman in January, Steele’s ouster was pretty much a done deal before the first ballot was even cast.
When Steele was elected in 2009, the nation had just inaugurated its first African-American president and the GOP was in deep turmoil. His charisma and outspokenness got him the job, but were also the very characteristics that got him in so much trouble. Steele, however, contends he was just speaking the truth.
“My job is to inflame passions and stoke interest. Now, keep in mind I inherited a party that nobody wanted to be a part of anymore. So what do you do? The same-old, same-old?” Steele said. “That for me was just ludicrous. I like to shake it up and I love poking the system, but more important, I thought it was important to poke the system to get it to realize that it must change.”
One of Steele’s stated goals when he became chairman was to woo African-Americans and other minorities who had overwhelmingly thrown their support behind Barack Obama and the Democratic Party during the 2008 election cycle. Was he successful? Steele gives himself a “solid B.”
“When I look at state legislatures, county councils and the U.S. Congress, I see African-Americans who have an ‘R’ behind their names that wasn’t there before. I see over the course of those two years successful efforts to go out and recruit and run candidates for office,” Steele said. In the 2010 midterm elections, there were “30-some African-Americans running as the Republican nominee from their congressional districts,” he said.
Ultimately, two Black Republicans, Tim Scott of South Carolina and Allen West of Florida, made it to Congress, which Steele says is the result of the RNC, under his leadership, making a pathway available to them and other candidates.
“I’m excited about that and I just don’t want [those efforts] to stop,” he said. Whether they will, he added, “right now is questionable.”
Steele, who is currently weighing potential opportunities to work in media and reviving his business law practice, plans to stay very involved in politics and hopes to open the GOP tent to even more minorities. While he continues to believe that many African-Americans share the party’s philosophy of smaller government, less regulation and lower taxes, he also acknowledges that many question whether Republicans truly understand or even care about their issues.
“Part of my mission in this cycle will be to make sure that every candidate in the process, and especially the nominee, stands before my community and accounts and represents and addresses our concerns,” said Steele.
Good luck with that, Michael Steele!