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Michael Steele: The GOP’s gaffe machine

Michael Steele was chosen to head the Republican National Committee because of his communication skills as a Fox News commentator, yet a series of verbal gaffes has roiled the party's base.

Michael Steele promised an “off the hook” approach to promoting the Republican brand, said Mike Madden in Salon.com. He wasn’t kidding. Steele, the new Republican National Committee chairman, has in recent weeks referred to the Obama stimulus package as “bling bling,” called conservative radio icon Rush Limbaugh’s show “ugly” and “incendiary,” and promised to win over new voters by, in his words, “applying the party’s principles to urban-suburban hip-hop settings.” Now Steele is trying to undo the damage from a “disastrous interview” he gave to GQ magazine that had social conservatives calling for his head. In the interview, Steele called abortion an “individual choice” and contradicted religious conservatives’ belief that homosexuality is a sinful “lifestyle”; gays, said Steele, have no more control over their orientation than he does over being black. It’s as if Steele is the Democrats’ “secret weapon,” said Frank James in the Chicagotribune.com. Every time the party chairman opens his mouth, he sows discord in Republican ranks.

Steele’s verbal gaffes aren’t just background noise, said Chuck Todd in MSNBC.com. They strike “at the heart of the key issues the party is confronting. Is the GOP an anti-abortion party or does it accept differing views?” Are Rush Limbaugh and the conservative base off-limits to criticism even as the GOP tries to enlarge its tent? The irony is that Steele was elected chairman “because of his communication skills as a Fox News commentator.” But it’s precisely his “lack of message discipline that has gotten him into trouble.”

This is worse than a mere lack of discipline, said syndicated columnist Star Parker. This is suicide. “We now have the most left-wing president in our history,” remaking the country according to his own whims—and we Republicans are bickering about Michael Steele. We need “a chairman who wants to fight this fight. Michael Steele is not that man.” Don’t count on ousting him any time soon, said Chris Cillizza in TheWashingtonpost.com. Republicans know that firing their first African-American chairman only weeks into his tenure would send “the exact wrong message.” Besides, removing a party chairman requires a two-thirds vote of the national committee, a daunting threshold to reach. So expect Republicans to hunker down and “avoid the appearance of further chaos at all costs.” Steele will now avoid interviews for a while, and try to focus on raising money and winning elections. Should he fail at those core objectives, however, “the long knives will come out.”

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