Washington (CNN) – Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is calling for a shake-up at the Republican National Committee, another setback for Chairman Michael Steele as he decides whether to seek a second term atop the party organization.
Gingrich has a friendly relationship with Steele and has come to his defense repeatedly during Steele's rocky tenure, but that appeared to change Thursday when he said the status quo at the RNC is unworkable as the party moves into the presidential election cycle.
Asked if a change needs to be made at the committee ahead of 2012, Gingrich said Steele should either tap a "very strong" deputy to "convince people that the internal parts of the committee will be run by somebody," or else the RNC will have to find a new chairman.
Any other scenario could put Republican hopes of capturing the White House at risk, he suggested.
"Chairman Steele has to convince people that he will have dramatically stronger executive director and internal leader, or I think there will be a new leader," Gingrich said.
Steele has been unusually quiet in recent weeks as he decides his political future. Meanwhile, at least eight Republicans are mulling bids for the chairmanship in the meantime.
"It's clear that the committee has to pay off a very large debt and the committee has to focus on being dramatically more effective for 2012, and I think that members of the RNC got to make a decision about what the right way is to get to that," he added.
RNC insiders expect the committee to reveal debts of $15 million or higher in their next financial reports.
Gingrich, himself a possible presidential contender, was taking questions from reporters after an appearance at a conference put on by Americano, a bilingual website founded by the former Georgia congressman to reach out to the Hispanic community.
It happened that conservative RNC members were having a confab of their own across the hall at the same hotel to interview potential replacements for Steele.
Noting that he recently completed "The Audacity to Win," David Plouffe's memoir of managing Barack Obama's presidential campaign in 2008, Gingrich said the RNC needs to be in top form if any Republican is to have a shot at winning the presidency.
"If you are contemplating what the 2012 campaign is going to be like, it's not going to be like 2010," he said. "It's going to be much harder to campaign, it's going to be a much bigger universe, against a very formidable machine."
He added, "The committee members have to be convinced that whatever team they put in charge there is capable of running a system that's big enough to compete head-to-head with the president and with the Democratic National Committee."
Gingrich predicted that Democrats will raise roughly a billion dollars for Obama's re-election campaign, along with having the power of the presidency. Republicans will not have to match that amount, he said, "but you have to be in the same playing field."