‘Top Line’: Steele Off-Message (Again)

By Lindsey Ellerson

Jan 5, 2010 1:51pm

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: Touting his new book last night on Fox News, RNC Chairman Michael Steele got the kind of question party chairmen get all the time: Will the Republican Party win control of Congress this year? “Not this year,” Steele told Sean Hannity — in a comment that no doubt came as a shock to party leaders and operatives who have been arguing for months that the GOP has a real chance to take back control of the House in 2010. A moment later, Steele tried to clarify, saying he wasn’t sure yet about all the candidates Republicans are fielding. Then he got himself in deeper: “But then the question we need to ask ourselves is, if we do [win the majority], are we ready?” The comments were met with grumbling among national Republicans — including many who have long been critical of Steele’s leadership at the RNC — about a chairman who is again going off-message. The knock on Steele has long been that he’s better suited to be a political candidate than a party leader, and quotes like these don’t help that reputation, or his relationship with GOP leaders on Capitol Hill. Predictions by party chairmen rarely move votes. But they do play into recruiting efforts and impact party enthusiasm, during a critical period where Republicans are seeking to make up for a fund-raising and energy gap against Democrats. “There are two key jobs” for a party chairman, Republican strategist Kevin Madden said today on ABC’s “Top Line.” “The first job is to be a fund-raiser for the party. And the second one is to be a fierce advocate — with partisanship — for the prospects of your party. If you question the latter, the former suffers, and that is a big problem…” “I think that if he’s given a chance today to remedy it — I’m sure that Michael Steele has some sort of media interview today — I’m sure that he may have a chance to step back from that, because it is very important. Because you’ve got to remember, in the field, the confidence of the party is what helps you with your fund-raising and your grass-roots organization.” “So when you have the titular head of the party — or at least the titular head of the party apparatus — question those prospects, I think it hurts both the fund-raising and the grass-roots organization. And there are a lot of people out there, people who are at the [National Republican Senatorial Committee], people at the [National Republican Congressional Committee] that are working very hard, and they’re doing everything they can to telegraph to prospective donors and to prospective voters that the party is in good shape and that we have a great chance to make headway at the polls in 2010.” Madden said Steele’s former careers — as a politician (he served as lieutenant governor of Maryland and lost a US Senate race in 2006), and a political analyst — seem to be continuing to influence his conduct in his current job. “When you’re the party chairman you can’t be an analyst. You have to put all that aside and just be a fierce advocate,” he said. We’ll discuss this and more with Chairman Steele himself on Friday’s “Top Line.” We stream live at noon ET at ABCNews.com. The program also airs on ABC NewsNOW, and is available as a free podcast via iTunes. Steele’s new book, “Right Now: A 12-Step Program for Defeating the Obama Agenda,” hit stores this week.

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