If Michael Steele did what the pack of GOP conservatives are screaming for, namely tender his resignation as Republican National Committee chair, it would be a catastrophe for President Obama and the Democrats. The gaffe-prone Steele has bungled money and staff, regularly mugs and grandstands on network talk shows, brags about being hip, a street guy, and even complains that he, as President Obama, is also subject to a racial double standard. He has more detractors than any GOP leader this side of W. Bush, and that includes legions of Republican leaders.
For now though the RNC still needs Steele for the very reason he was plucked for the lead role in the first place. In the wake of Obama's smash White House win, he was the best hope to prevent a battered, beaten, and demoralized GOP had from being shoved to the netherworld of national politics. The GOP is still widely sneered at and dismissed as an insular party of unreconstructed bigots, Deep South, rural and, non-college educated blue collar whites. Steele gives the party an image sheen that is anything but white, rural and Deep South.
Steele has had dual value to the GOP. In addition to being the moderate, freewheeling, shoot from the lip, non-traditional Republican, that excites many and give the party a different look and feel, he's comfortable at tea party rallies, and aggressively courts tea party leaders. GOP mainstream leaders may shrink in red faced embarrassment at Steele (and in a poll by the National Journal earlier this year seventy percent want him out), the RNC sex club fiasco, its high living, jet-setting ways, and feign even more embarrassment at the borderline racial antics and slurs, digs from some tea baggers, and ultra conservatives. But they know that the GOP would fall flat on its face without them. Their passionate belief in God, country and patriotism, little to no government, passionate defense of personal freedoms, is the political oil that has fueled the GOP's machine for four decades, and assured the White House for Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr. and W. Bush.
But looking ahead that may not mean much in the run-up to the 2012 presidential elections. Outside of Palin, Steele is the most polarizing Republican since Lincoln. This makes him the perfect distraction, foil, and ultimately, perfect perverse Obama ally. Steele is the butt of SNL laugh lines, giddily mocked and ridiculed by Democrats and the pundits, groaned at by the GOP regulars long before his initial knock against the Afghan war. Most agree that he's not fit to head the RNC. But this only makes him even more bizarrely appealing.
Steele on the loose in the run-up to the 2012 presidential elections would potentially render invaluable aid to Obama. He would confuse, rile up, and split Republicans. That could translate out into millions of disgruntled, frustrated voters who would be so disgusted with the party that they would be sorely tempted to stay at home. This would be tantamount to a vote for Obama.
A mesmerized media, titillated public, and legions of Steele loathers, have made him the butt of derision and the talk of the land. That talk is just fine for Obama. But this dream scenario for the Democrats is likely to be just that a dream. If Steele weathers the current storm, and he probably will, almost certainly he will be toast in January. That's when his tenure as RNC chair ends. For now the Democrats love every minute of Steele and the GOP's arm wrestle, and they should. Enjoy it while it lasts, because it won't.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts a nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk shows on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles.
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