- The Washington Times - Friday, January 8, 2010

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele on Thursday challenged some of the most prominent critics in his party to fire him or “shut up.”

Responding directly to a report Thursday in The Washington Times that some top donors are bypassing the RNC to give to the Republican Governors Association and other party campaign committees and candidates because of discontent with Mr. Steele, the national chairman struck an aggressive tone.

“If you don’t want me on the job, fire me. But until then, shut up,” he said in an interview with St. Louis radio station KTRS.

Mr. Steele also made sharp counterattacks in an interview with ABC News Radio.

Mr. Steele referred to former RNC chairmen and finance chairmen who have criticized him publicly as being “the problem; they’re not the solution.” Former RNC Chairmen Jim Nicholson, Rich Bond and Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr. have questioned some of Mr. Steele’s side activities, including giving speeches for pay and promoting his new book, “Right Now: A 12-Step Program for Defeating the Obama Agenda,” while holding down the party’s top job.

“Get with the program,” he said. “Some of my prior chairmen who are running their mouths right now, how many farm teams did you build as chairman?”

The Times on Thursday quoted Mr. Nicholson - who served as secretary of veterans affairs for President George W. Bush - as saying, “I do not see how a chairman can do book tours and give speeches for fees that go to him and not the RNC, which needs more money badly.”

Many Republican officials have criticized Mr. Steele’s book tour at a time when the RNC is trailing the Republican Governors Association and the Democratic National Committee in fundraising and the midterm elections are just 10 months away.

Rising to Mr. Steele’s defense Thursday was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who suggested that Mr. Steele’s critics are out of touch with the demands of modern political organizing.

Mr. Gingrich told reporters that “Michael Steele makes a number of old-time Republicans very nervous. He comes out of a different background. … But I think he’s pretty close to what we need. He’s different, he’s gutsy and he’s going to make a number of Republicans mad,” according to an Associated Press account.

Major Republican donors apparently disagree.

Christine Toretti, a longtime Republican donor and RNC member from Pennsylvania, said this week that she doesn’t plan to give to the RNC this election cycle and knows of no other major donor who plans to either because of a lack of confidence in Mr. Steele.

Mr. Steele defended his stewardship of the party and his handling of party finances, saying RNC cash was critical to the party’s gubernatorial wins in New Jersey and Virginia in November.

“I have $8 million [cash on hand in the RNC’s coffers] and no debt and, oh, by the way, I won two governorships and a host of special elections throughout [last] year and - gee, guess what, we’re building the brand, we’re engaging our grass-roots activists,” he told KTRS host McGraw Milhaven.

Last year, the RNC chairman immediately took credit for the victories of Republican gubernatorial candidates Robert F. McDonnell in Virginia and Chris Christie in New Jersey.

The executive director of the Republican Governors Association dismissed Mr. Steele’s claims and told The Times that it was the RGA, headed by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, that did the heavy lifting and spent the money to win both gubernatorial contests.

On Tuesday afternoon, the RGA’s official position was that it would “decline to comment” on Mr. Steele’s latest claims about the Virginia and New Jersey elections.

• Ralph Z. Hallow can be reached at rhallow@gmail.com.

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