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Asked why he would purposely say things that would be construed as gaffes, he said, “I want to see what the landscape looks like. I want to see who yells the loudest. I want to know who says they’re with me but really isn’t.”

Asked why he feels a need to flush out the opposition, he said, “It helps me understand my position on the chess board. It helps me understand where the enemy camp is. And where those who are inside the tent are. It’s all strategic.”

But Mrs. McLarty said, “I don’t really buy that. I think he just said things in his gut that didn’t come out right for conservatives.”

Some RNC members say they no longer know when Mr. Steele means what he says and when his words are meant to be strategically misleading.

“So what is true? Are you really apologetic? We need to know,” Mrs. Adams said.