Senior Republican National Committee members are preparing a motion demanding that RNC Chairman Michael S. Steele cancel promotional events for the book he wrote as chairman, The Washington Times has learned.
The proposed motion, to be presented to the 168-member RNC at its annual winter meeting in Honolulu at the end of this month, also would direct him to donate to the RNC and Republican candidates all proceeds from the book.
A storm of criticism has swirled around Mr. Steele over his missteps, retractions, and profiting from speeches and his new book, “Right Now: A 12-Step Program for Defeating the Obama Agenda.” Three of his predecessors have publicly castigated his actions. His critics say the controversy is distracting voter attention from the Democrats’ problems 10 months before midterm elections.
“I think the motion may be the way out of this mess, a step ahead,” said former RNC General Counsel David Norcross, a national committee member from New Jersey.
Mr. Norcross said he has not finalized plans for the maneuver, and other members involved said they are gauging its potential impact on the national party.
In response, the RNC said the vast majority of state party chairmen and committee members support Mr. Steele and welcome his ability to energize the Republican base.
“There will always be a few folks who are Washington insiders and will work to oppose him. The RNC and the chairman are focused on winning elections and not on inside-the-Beltway distractions,” said RNC Chief of Staff Ken McKay.
But in another sign of internal tension, Mr. Steele’s supporters have begun citing the precedent of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, e-mailing to members a claim that Mr. Barbour was guilty of the same things Mr. Steele is now being criticized for doing when he headed the RNC in the mid-1990s, The Times also has learned.
The veiled shot at Mr. Barbour, an influential Republican leader, came Monday when Steele supporters circulated a message to other RNC members saying that Mr. Barbour wrote a book in 1996 as national chairman.
The party infighting is escalating two weeks before the RNC’s annual winter meeting that could determine Mr. Steele’s fate.
Former Texas Republican Party Chairman Tom Pauken, who served on the RNC during Mr. Barbour’s two terms as head of the party, told The Times that Mr. Barbour “was a politically astute and effective chairman whom no one ever accused of being less than a full-time chairman.” Mr. Pauken said he has “nothing against Michael Steele personally. I just think that he is in over his head.”
“This is a time when the national Republican Party needs bold, conservative leadership to do battle with the most liberal regime in American history,” he said.
Mr. Steele’s office sought to defuse a potential clash with Mr. Barbour, chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
“The chairman deeply respects Gov. Barbour’s long record of leadership to the Republican Party. Chairman Steele and Gov. Barbour enjoy a solid working relationship and look forward to coming victories in the fall,” said Mr. McKay.
Mr. McKay also made clear that Mr. Steele “sought and received experienced senior Republican legal counsel, about his outside income.”
“Both Democrat and Republican national committee chairmen have regularly received outside income,” he said.
Several former RNC chairmen and RNC finance chairmen have publicly criticized Mr. Steele’s “unethical” and, they say, unprecedented exploitation of his position and title for personal gain.
Mr. Steele has gone public with his frustration with his Republican critics, telling one radio interviewer last week that his party detractors should either “shut up [and] get with the program or get out of the way.”
The campaign invoking Mr. Barbour comes in the form of an e-mail that cites an opinion column posted on the American Spectator’s Web site.
In an e-mail to the 167 other RNC members — a copy of which The Times obtained — Michigan RNC member Holly Hughes, a Steele supporter, says that Mr. Steele “is not the first to write a book during his chairmanship; so did Haley Barbour who launched the conservative comeback for our party.”
As RNC chairman in 1994, Mr. Barbour led the GOP to its takeover of the U.S. House and Senate in the congressional elections that year.
Steele supporters also say that Mr. Barbour continued to receive compensation from his lobbying firm while RNC chairman.
Mr. Barbour ran for chairman in 1994 on a platform that included a pledge to resign from his lobbying firm and devote full time to the chairmanship. He did both. He wrote the book for a Republican policy institute he established as chairman and did not pocket any of the proceeds from that book, he said at the time and repeated to The Times this week.
The exchange could ignite a direct clash between Mr. Steele, a former Maryland lieutenant governor who was elected RNC chairman on the sixth ballot in January 2009, and Mr. Barbour, who has Republican allies and admirers in virtually every state.
Mrs. Hughes’ e-mail includes the American Spectator column length blog by Jeffrey Lord, a political strategist in Pennsylvania, who writes that “the flak Steele has been taking over writing his new book is utterly bogus.”
Senior Republicans disputed the Steele camp’s assertions about Mr. Barbour.
“National Committeewoman Hughes closes her e-mail to the membership by writing, ‘I think [Mr. Lord] has got it right.’ Unfortunately ‘this guy’ most assuredly does not have it right,” Mr. Norcross said. “I was general counsel to the RNC during Gov. Barbour’s chairmanship. The book in question was written for the National Policy Forum and all sales proceeds went to the National Policy Forum.
“Nor, for the record, did Chairman Barbour receive any recompense from his law firm during his chairmanship,” said Mr. Norcross. “This controversy over book tours and speeches has now led to the spreading of disinformation about one of our great chairmen, a very successful governor and current outstanding chairman of the RGA.”
Georgia RNC member Alec Poitevint said that although Mrs. Hughes “is dear friend and great asset to RNC,” her information about Mr. Barbour is not correct.
Mr. Poitevint defended Mr. Steele, however, against his critics, saying he “has traveled at unreal pace since becoming chairman. He is a more than full-time chairman.”
Mr. Poitevint said he attended an event with Mr. Steele in Tampa, Fla., and “his message was on target and well received.”
• Ralph Z. Hallow can be reached at email@example.com.
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