Thursday, March 12, 2009

Michael Steele: The View From Maryland

By Marc Korman. Cross-posted from Progress for a New Generation.

“Bobby Jindal is doing a friggin’ awesome job in his state.” - ABC Radio Interview

“Oh, yes, I’m always open to everything, baby, absolutely.” - Fox News Interview

“Drill, baby, drill.” - Republican National Convention Speech
Thanks to quotes like these, the rest of the nation now knows what we in Maryland have already figured out. Michael Steele is not ready for prime time.

Steele’s speaking style makes George W. Bush look like Barack Obama. Maybe he is just trying to appeal to us crazy kids and our slang, but am I the only one who is put off when I see a man in his fifties regularly call people baby? Is he hoping to take over the role of Austin Powers?

Although we could argue that Steele’s speaking style is enough to disqualify him as a serious political player (if only that argument had worked with W), Steele has other failings too. Nationwide, Steele is often referred to as the former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland. Commentators talk about the accomplishment of a Republican being elected in a blue state. But unlike California or Texas, Maryland’s LG is not an independently elected office, but is elected on a ticket with the governor. Steele’s victory was not really his, but rather a victory for Republican Bob Ehrlich, who positioned himself as a moderate problem solver. It was also the result of a poorly run campaign by the Democratic nominee in a big year for Republicans across the country, 2002.

In fact, Steele has never won an election on his own. He ran for a statewide office in Maryland in 1998 and lost. He came in third in a three way Republican primary. He also ran for the US Senate in 2006 and was a highly touted prospect. This time the primary field was clear for him, but he lost a lackluster campaign that had more to do with whether he liked puppies than his views on Iraq, healthcare, or other issues.

Steele was also the chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, likely his best qualification for running the RNC. He chaired from 2000 to 2002, which was when he was conveniently picked to be Bob Ehrlich’s running mate. While Steele found some success, he left the rest of his fellow Republicans behind. That same year long serving Republican Congresswoman Connie Morella was defeated and no infrastructure was built for state legislative candidates. Although Ehrlich’s win was impressive, it was an isolated victory in a big Republican year nationwide with no lasting impact. Four short years later Ehrlich was defeated, the same year as Steele’s Senate defeat, and Democrats picked up seats in the state legislature.

Steele’s organizational failings go beyond his party failures. He also had financial problems with his business consulting group, leading to liens being placed on his home. That probably qualifies him to serve in the Cabinet, but does not speak well of his financial skills.

So if Michael Steele is the future of the Republican Party, then progressives should be smiling.