Michael S. Steele, the GOP’s HRIC – Head Republican in Charge – has a word of advice for his fellow partymates: “If you don’t want me in the job, fire me!”
But in the meantime, says Steele, the first African American to lead the Republican Party, those who are displeased with his performance so far should just “shut up.”
They should "get a life," Steele told ABC News Radio Thursday. "I'm looking them in the eye and saying, 'I've had enough of it. If you don't want me in the job, fire me. But until then, shut up. Get with the program or get out of the way.' "
Steele is no stranger to barbs from fellow Republicans. He’s butted heads with acid-tongued shock jock Rush Limbaugh – the self-proclaimed Grand Pooh-Bah of the Conservative Movement – over who’s the real voice of the GOP. He’s been castigated by colleagues for calling abortion “absolutely … an individual choice”; for offering to bring the fried chicken and potato salad to attract more Blacks to the Republican Party; and for demanding $20,000 and more for speeches in his capacity as party chairman.
In March 2009, fellow Black Republican Ada Fisher referred to Steele as a buffoon. In an e-mail to the entire Republican National Committee last year, Fisher demanded Steele’s head, saying that, “frankly, he appears to many Blacks as quite foolish.”
Around that time, Steele expressed how he felt about critics ganging up on him. "I ask God, 'Hey, let me show just a little bit of love, so I absolutely don't go out and kick this person's ass,'" he told GQ magazine. That didn’t sit well with Republican Party brass either.
Steele’s detractors say he continues to embarrass the party. When asked by FOX News recently about the likelihood of Republicans taking over the House and Senate in 2010, Steele effused: "Not this year.” Not the kind of message the GOP wants out there at a time when it’s revving up for a battle to capitalize on President Obama’s diminishing popularity amid the nation’s glum job and economic picture.
"You really just have to get him to stop. It's too much," said one key Republican congressional aide, according to The Washington Post. Steele has attempted to reverse those comments as the pressure builds up, telling MSNBC on Wednesday that he’s "playing to win."
But whatever repairs Steele tries, it may not be enough to beat back his critics.
The fact that Steele, formerly the lieutenant governor of Maryland – the first African American to hold that post, too – ascended to the helm of the Republican Party is quite amazing.
One of the biggest historic criticisms against the Republican Party is that it has been less than welcoming to Black Americans and anathema to a progressive agenda of ensuring equal rights for all Americans. It was during the 1960s that southern Democrats, who were opposed to civil rights laws, found a warm refuge in the Republican Party. The GOP’s consistent stances against civil rights legislation and the rhetoric it has employed over the past half-century that has made it difficult for it attract African Americans.
When the Republican Party chose Steele last year, he was viewed by many as a potential key to expanding the party. Many others, however, viewed it as a mere gimmick – an attempt by the Republican Party to keep pace with the Democratic Party, which has just elected the first African-American president in history.
But Steele also has supporters within the party. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich describes himself as a fan of Steele, acknowledging that the chairman "makes a number of old-time Republicans very nervous."
"He comes out of a different background," Gingrich told The Associated Press. "But I think he's pretty close to what we need. He's different, he's gutsy and he's going to make a number of Republicans mad."