More and more, the Republican Party seems to be chasing its own tail under the direction of its new national chairman, Michael Steele. And this week, the putative revolt against Steele transcended the grumbling about slow staff appointments and his clumsy dance with Rush Limbaugh, and became openly ideological, at a time when the GOP’s ideological rigidity seems to have reached an all-time high. As Ben Smith explained yesterday at Politico:
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele’s series of gaffes turned into something more serious Thursday, as leaders of a pillar of the GOP—the anti-abortion movement—shifted into open revolt over comments in an interview with the men’s magazine GQ.
Steele called abortion an “individual choice” and opposed a constitutional ban on abortion in the Feb. 24 interview, which appeared online Wednesday night. He echoed the language of the abortion rights movement and appeared to contradict his own heated assertions during his campaign for chairman that he is a committed soldier in the anti-abortion movement.
While he issued a statement Thursday affirming his opposition to abortion and his support for a constitutional amendment banning it, the damage appeared to be done as leading social conservatives publicly attacked the embattled chairman.
Some of the criticism came pretty close to the line that separates more-in-sorrow-than-anger rebukes from get-thee-behind-me-Satan anathemas. Mike Huckabee, for example, isn’t satisfied with Steele’s apologies for his heretical comments on abortion:
For Chairman Steele to even infer that taking a life is totally left up to the individual is not only a reversal of Republican policy and principle, but it’s a violation of the most basic of human rights–the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. His statement today helps, but doesn’t explain why he would ever say what he did in the first place.
And Smith quotes several other social conservative activists who clearly would like to drop Steele from the nearest cliff:
“Michael Steele has just walked away from the Reaganesque position of strong moral clarity on abortion to personify why the Republican Party continues to be in a ‘free fall’,” said another activist, Jenn Giroux, the executive director of the conservative group Women Influencing the Nation. “It is amazing that he cannot see and learn from the fact that Sarah Palin’s position on abortion and her unapologetic defense of every conceived child drew crowds by the thousands on that issue alone.”
Trouble is, of course, that dumping Steele as RNC chairman isn’t a very easy or appetizing prospect, either. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza today offers “Five Reasons Why Steele Stays.” To boil them down: (1) The last thing the GOP needs now is more chaos at the top; (2) Dumping the first African-American RNC chairman so quickly would constitute “symbolic suicide;” (3) There’s no obvious successor; (4) Removing an RNC chairman is procedurally tricky; and (5) Steele is finally getting things moving again at the RNC.
That all makes sense, though Republicans could dragoon some generally acceptable elected official into chairing the RNC, at least as a figurehead, to minimize the damage if they want to show Steele the door. My guess is that Steele stays, but with a muzzle firmly attached to his face. And while that might keep him out of the newspapers and out of trouble, someone who never gets noticed is not exactly what you want these days in a national party chairman.