April 6th, 2010
10:05 AM ET
5 years ago

Steele tries to reassure GOP as top aide resigns

Embattled Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele sought to reassure party activists that the GOP will be prepared for November's elections after Monday's resignation of his chief of staff.
Embattled Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele sought to reassure party activists that the GOP will be prepared for November's elections after Monday's resignation of his chief of staff.

Washington (CNN) - Embattled Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele sought to reassure party activists that the GOP will be prepared for November's elections after Monday's resignation of his chief of staff.

Ken McKay was replaced by Mike Leavitt, who served as the RNC's deputy chief of staff for external communications. And a few hours after McKay's departure was announced, another key Steele political ally said that his firm was cutting ties with the RNC.

Steele e-mailed all 168 RNC members early Monday evening to tell them of McKay's departure and accepted responsibility for some embarrassing headlines that have come out of the party lately. He guaranteed party activists and state party leaders that he is the right person to lead the GOP into the November midterms.

"Just as everyday Americans have entrusted the RNC with their money and their hopes for a better country, so also, you have entrusted me with the stewardship of this organization to make those hopes a reality," Steele wrote in the e-mail obtained by CNN.

"I take this grave responsibility seriously. Leadership requires that any distractions from our most serious mission be addressed immediately and decisively," he wrote. "Leadership requires that I can safely assure you, our donors, and the American people that our mission is what drives every dollar we spend, every phone call we make, every e-mail we send and every event we organize. Recent events have called that assurance into question and the buck stops with me. That is why I have made this change in my management team and why I am confident about going forward to November with renewed focus and energy."

But Curt Anderson, who helped engineer Steele's victory as RNC chairman in 2009, said in an e-mail that his political strategy firm, OnMessage Inc., was stepping aside after McKay's resignation.

"Ken McKay's departure is a huge loss for the Republican Party. Ken steered the party through very successful elections last fall that have given us tremendous momentum," Anderson wrote. "He's a great talent. Given our firm's commitments to campaigns all over the country, we have concluded it is best for us to step away from our advisory role at the RNC. We have high personal regard for the Chairman and always have; we wish him well."

McKay came to the RNC after working for Rhode Island Gov. Don Carcieri.

Critics have charged that Steele lacks the leadership to oversee the GOP's national political organization. He has been criticized for his use of private jets and limousines as Republicans will head into the midterm elections with less money than Democrats. The House and Senate campaign committees rely on the national parties to help fund campaign efforts in the midterm election years.

Last week, Steele also came under fire from social conservatives after it was learned that the RNC had picked up a nearly $2,000 tab at a bondage-themed Hollywood night club for a group of young donors. A few days later, Democrats distributed an RNC fund-raising solicitation with a misprinted number that sent callers to a phone sex line.

Steele also had to distance himself from an internal party document that described high-level Republican donors as "ego-driven" and suggested enticing them with "tchochkes," while urging "visceral" appeals to small donors.

In a separate statement sent to the media Monday, Steele touted Leavitt's political credentials, including his work on Steele's 2006 Senate bid in Maryland as well as his ties to Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. The RNC distributed a statement from McDonnell, who is viewed by many as a rising GOP star, about the new chief of staff.

"Mike Leavitt worked closely with me and my campaign in Virginia, where he led an extremely successful victory operation," McDonnell said. "Mike will bring great energy, commitment, and experience to the job of chief of staff at the RNC. I applaud Chairman Steele for his choice."

And former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie said he did not know McKay, but he did speak highly of Leavitt in an e-mail to CNN.

"Mike is a very smart political operative and effective manager of people and resources," Gillespie said in the e-mail. "He knows the chairman well and how best to maximize his strengths. He also has very good relations with the other committees and Republican strategists. Chairman Steele's decision to put Mike Leavitt in charge of the building will be reassuring to a lot of Republicans."

But a GOP political strategist with knowledge of the situation said he is concerned that Steele is no longer listening to sound political advice.

"This is a real danger for him," said the high-level strategist, who would speak freely only the condition of anonymity. "You can make a lot of mistakes as a party chairman, but one thing you can't do is alienate your fund-raisers. Michael Steele has apparently done that."

The strategist also said that "At the same time the Republican Party is supposed to be transforming itself, people are looking at us saying what do you guys have to offer? And all they are seeing is this mess."

Steele was elected as RNC chairman in a hotly contested race in January 2009 after six rounds of voting. His tenure at the RNC can be best described as successful and controversial. Republicans won the governor's races in New Jersey and Virginia in 2009, and GOP state Sen. Scott Brown did what many people thought was unimaginable by winning the late Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy's seat in January.

Steele has had other problems, including a high profile 2009 dust-up with Rush Limbaugh in which he described the conservative talk radio host's rhetoric as "incendiary" and "ugly" in an interview with CNN. Steele also emphasized in the same interview that he, not Limbaugh, was the "de facto leader of the Republican Party."

Limbaugh fired back on his radio show and accused Steele of supporting President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He said Steele appeared to be "obsessed with seeing to it President Obama succeeds."

"I frankly am stunned that the chairman of the Republican National Committee endorses such an agenda," Limbaugh said. "I have to conclude that he does, because he attacks me for wanting it to fail."

Earlier Monday, before McKay's departure was announced, Steele defended himself from critics and said that he has a "slimmer margin for error" because he is African-American.

"Barack Obama has a slimmer margin," Steele said on ABC's 'Good Morning America.' "We all – a lot of folks do. I mean, it's a different role for me to play and others to play. And that's just the reality of it. It's more of
because you're not somebody they know. I am not a Washington insider even though I grew up in DC. My view of politics is much more grassroots-oriented. It's not old-boy-network-oriented."


Filed under: Michael Steele • RNC
soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. jbakaregit

    People should also know that Charlie Crist, the Republican governor of Florida, is asking for a federal investigation into the Florida (Jeb Bush's turf) GOP financial matters. It's about to get real ugly in Florida real fast.

    April 5, 2010 10:47 pm at 10:47 pm |
  2. Mary in va

    Mr Steele you are going to be so booted from the RNC. Start looking for another job, the writing is on the wall.

    April 5, 2010 11:07 pm at 11:07 pm |
  3. Albert R. K. GOP, RIP

    GOP, RIP. The Republican Party, born in 1854, died in 2010, after a slow death which began with the Great Recession of 2007 to 2010.

    April 5, 2010 11:19 pm at 11:19 pm |
  4. Fired Up! Ready to Go!

    What goes around comes around!

    You're next Michael Steele. Get ready for the unemployment line!

    April 5, 2010 11:27 pm at 11:27 pm |
  5. I am Newt Limebaugh

    C'mon RNC......just put Rush Slimeball or Bill O'Righty or Newt Gangrene or Sean Insanity in charge.............a bunch of wackos who all about MONEY... NOT VALUES.

    If you vote Repug.....you must be nuts

    April 5, 2010 11:47 pm at 11:47 pm |
  6. T'SAH from Virginia

    You can't stop a dripping faucet unless you replace the washer. They are slowly DRIPPING away from you Steele and the problem is – you can't find a WASHER to fix it. You most likely will not get fired – but when you look around you – no one will be there!!

    April 5, 2010 11:48 pm at 11:48 pm |
  7. Michael from Ventura

    From the top on down, the gop is a party of ego-mainiacs who put themselves before the country. Country First my rear end. Why don't they just go away. They have nothing positive to offer.

    April 6, 2010 12:06 am at 12:06 am |
  8. once upon a horse

    Mike Steele is the BEST thing the Democrats could have from the party of NO..he just keeps giving and giving

    April 6, 2010 12:08 am at 12:08 am |
  9. shamgar50

    Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele defended his leadership of the organization amid recent reports he has engaged in excessive spending, and says he has a "slimmer margin for error" because he is African-American.

    Wait! Is this a Republican, playing the RACE CARD? Priceless!

    April 6, 2010 12:09 am at 12:09 am |
  10. Robert2U

    Steele needs to go. If this was a politition he would be gone already. How can the Republican Party have any credibility if they allow him to stay. There should have been no discussion or allowing him to do anything but resign. Have then no backbone?

    April 6, 2010 12:19 am at 12:19 am |
  11. ho hum

    he is a looooooooser.

    April 6, 2010 12:21 am at 12:21 am |
  12. Larry Kraus

    the GOP has staked themselves to a JUST SAY NO STANCE. now they have to show us that they can lead any 2 year old can say no no no.

    April 6, 2010 12:24 am at 12:24 am |
  13. Anonymous

    Preston kathy stell is just a puppet and takes orders from Russ limbum as long as those two run the party tthe gop will be the bully party

    April 6, 2010 12:28 am at 12:28 am |
  14. SureWeBelieveYou

    Sounds more like the buck stops with Ken McKay.

    April 6, 2010 12:50 am at 12:50 am |
  15. stranger in an increasingly strange land

    The worst enemy your average right wing psychopath-–excuse me, Republican middle of the road conservative--has is another Republican trying to out Mom and apple pie him in a primary. It makes the infighting among the Borgias look like a Sunday School. They will both stretch the truth beyond any possibility of repair, spread inuendo, rumors and hints decrying their opponents faith, their sexuality, their conservative credentials and their honesty.

    Then when the primaries are over, the losers will vow to support to the death the same people they just claimed were not fit to draw breath with the American electorate.

    And then they wonder why most Americans have teensy bit of trouble believing in the people the GOP manage to foist on the public.

    Unbelievable.

    April 6, 2010 01:03 am at 1:03 am |
  16. Thomas

    I am not a Washington insider even though I grew up in DC. My view of politics is much more grassroots-oriented. It's not old-boy-network-oriented."
    Steel works for the old insiders that are on the outs !

    New Day baby , Rush is not your friend !

    April 6, 2010 01:06 am at 1:06 am |
  17. Joel Holden

    The last thing the Republican party needs at this time is dissension within its ranks. Get your act together boys. You're starting to act like Democrats.

    April 6, 2010 01:08 am at 1:08 am |
  18. Doug

    Stop....please... stop! This is too funny!

    April 6, 2010 01:57 am at 1:57 am |
  19. ej in Tacoma

    There's far too much air time being spent on this guy. Just let him crumble then the the rest of his party won't give him the time of day!
    ej in tacoma

    April 6, 2010 02:20 am at 2:20 am |
  20. Cliff

    Steele is nothing but a "token" for the RNC.
    He needs to get out of Dodge..and quick!

    April 6, 2010 02:21 am at 2:21 am |
  21. Larry

    I just looked at Steeles letter to the RNC membership ....

    LOL ... what a joke

    This guy is surely in La La Land

    The only people Americans have to fear are lying morons like Steele

    Get a life Mike

    Open your blind eyes and you might actually see reality

    April 6, 2010 03:09 am at 3:09 am |
  22. jules sand-perkins

    Please, Mr. Steele, RESIGN.
    This is an important time in the history of the Republican party.
    You are not helping us.
    You are hurting us.
    RESIGN.

    April 6, 2010 05:25 am at 5:25 am |