- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 13, 2011

Members of the Republican National Committee (RNC) will cast ballots today naming the individual they believe should lead the party organization into the pivotal 2012 presidential election cycle. Five candidates are vying for the post. Irrespective of their individual virtues, it’s become painfully clear over the past two years that the right choice is anyone but Michael S. Steele.

The RNC chairman’s primary job is raising money so the party’s candidates have sufficient resources to win elections. As The Washington Times reported in April, an internal probe of fundraising efforts on Mr. Steele’s watch determined that $1.09 was being spent for each $1 raised from major donors. While Mr. Steele’s defenders dispute the report, there’s no avoiding the fact that the RNC books have never been in worse shape with a debt of $20 million. A party that can’t keep its own spending under control is hardly going to have the credibility to challenge President Obama for his extravagant ways.

It’s no secret prospective donors sealed their pocketbooks after reading newspaper stories about RNC employees using donated money to cover the cost of entertainment at sex clubs. Public relations nightmares are inevitable when a party chairman decides his role is that of national spokesman rather than fundraiser in chief. By standing in the spotlight, Mr. Steele highlighted his frequently off-message moments. He called talk-radio pioneer Rush Limbaugh’s show “incendiary” and “ugly.” He even accused his critics - including Republicans - of being racist. That prompted Obama White House spokesman Robert Gibbs to aptly quip, “I think Michael Steele’s problem isn’t the race card, it’s the credit card.”

A party chairman should never tee up softballs to the opposition like that, but Mr. Steele appears to have a particular interest in drawing attention to himself. Months before the pivotal 2010 midterm elections, Mr. Steele embarked on a tour to promote his own book, “Right Now: A 12-Step Program for Defeating the Obama Agenda.” He also capitalized on his leadership position by offering himself on the speakers’ market at a typical rate of $10,000 to $15,000 per speech. As if that weren’t enough, party funds were used to underwrite luxury accommodation at posh locations like the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Four Seasons.

There’s a reason groups are willing to pay Mr. Steele, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland, to speak. He’s a likable individual with an ability to reach out to some audiences where Republicans traditionally have been weak. That, however, isn’t enough to deserve a second term at the RNC helm. The next chairman needs to be someone who can restore the confidence of donors eager to see the current occupant of the White House evicted in the upcoming election.

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