The trials and travails of Michael Steele

The new RNC chairman is in hot water with his own party -- again. How long can he last?

Published March 10, 2009 2:30PM (EDT)

The beginning of Michael Steele's tenure as chairman of the Republican National Committee has been exceedingly rocky, and not just because of his very public tiff with Rush Limbaugh. He's been taking heavy fire for his management style and leadership generally, as well.

The latest big debacle of Steele's tenure was actually sparked by a gesture he made in hopes of getting back in his party's good graces. Last week, Steele sent $1 million from the RNC's coffers to each of the GOP's two congressional campaign committees in order to help them pay down a sizable amount of debt.

The problem, the Hill reported Monday night, was that Steele's predecessor, Mike Duncan, had actually written two checks of $3 million each for the committees. Duncan had decided, however, to hold off on delivering the money until after the RNC chair election to avoid the appearance that he was doling out cash to boost his chances for re-election. The $2 million difference will be very significant for both committees, the Hill says.

Steele has also reportedly engaged in other attempts to repair his damaged reputation, like a conference call with RNC members on Friday in which, according to the Hill, "he apologized and sought to reassure them that he would refocus on the task at hand."

That may not be a purely good thing. When Steele is actually focusing on the RNC, he doesn't necessarily turn out great product. On Monday, he was widely ridiculed over a request for proposal the RNC sent out, looking for a designer for a new Web site. And his new interim director of technology and new media has been out of college for less than three years.

With all this going on, the's Sean Quinn is reporting that Steele will be done if the GOP can't pull off a win in an upcoming special election in New York's 20th congressional district. The National Review's Jim Geraghty is questioning that report, however. I think he's probably right to: It would be odd if that, of all things, were truly the last straw, and it seems unlikely that the GOP would so quickly call an end to the tenure of the RNC's first African-American head, if only for appearances' sake. Of course, anything can happen -- after all, they elected him in the first place.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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