Michael Steele does it again

The RNC chair can't seem to keep his foot out of his mouth -- this time, he insulted Mitt Romney, and the GOP base.

Published May 11, 2009 11:00PM (EDT)

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele doesn't seem to know when to let well enough alone. He managed to forestall a challenge that could have cost him his job recently, but gave up quite a bit of his power. He weathered the storm over a series of embarrassing remarks and interviews and kept RNC fundraising chugging along. But he just can't stop putting his foot in his mouth, and conservative activists are fed up.

Steele put his foot in his mouth again on Friday, when he guest-hosted Bill Bennett's radio show.  A caller suggested that, if he'd gotten the Republican nomination, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney could have beaten Barack Obama and won the presidency. In his response, Steele managed to insult Romney -- and the entire GOP base:

[R]emember, it was the base that rejected Mitt because of his switch on pro-life, from pro-choice to pro-life. It was the base that rejected Mitt because it had issues with Mormonism. It was the base that rejected Mitch, Mitt, because they thought he was back and forth and waffling on those very economic issues you're talking about. So, I mean, I hear what you're saying, but before we even got to a primary vote, the base had made very clear they had issues with Mitt because if they didn't, he would have defeated John McCain in those primaries in which he lost.

(On Friday, I noted another comment from that same show, an embarrassingly disjointed comment the RNC chair made about the criteria President Obama will use to select the next Supreme Court justice.)

Several conservative commentators have now suggested that, after a long list of trespasses like this one, it's time for Steele's tenure at the head of the Republican Party to come to an end. The RNC's response? According to the National Review's Jim Geraghty, it's this:

Chairman Steele regrets the way his comments have been interpreted. Chairman Steele believes Mitt Romney is a respected and influential voice in the Republican Party and looks to his leadership and ideas to help move our party and our nation in the right direction.

For the record, all of this isn't to say that Steele wasn't right -- he was. But it's obviously still a problem for him, a prime example of Michael Kinsley's definition of a gaffe: "when a politician tells the truth."

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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