If you’re a news junkie, it’s clear that over the past few months many GOPers wished RNC Chairman Michael Steele would somehow just go away. They had many complaints about him — from his allegedly big bux spending, to his foot in mouth comments, to the unforgivable sin of daring to criticize Rush Limbaugh (he apologized) — but one of their biggest complaints is that they feel that rather than focusing on his job he has been too tied up devoting his time pitching his book, role as a political personality and speaking engagements.
So it’s ironic that a scandal that Steele reportedly actually had no direct hand in involved GOPers going to a bondage themed club. And that no matter what the RNC does now, the story has “legs” since it is
tethered linked to an ongoing press narrative about Steele as a GOP Pain in the A.
Pundits and comedians now are having a field day with puns and bad and inappropriate jokes about Steele, Republicans and bondage, accurate or not. (I’m guilty of a few on my Twitter page. Go here, here, here, and here. Of course, the jokes became harder when it turned out he was not personally involved and really
got a bum rap was unjustly assumed to be personally involved.)
Flamboyance when packaged correctly can be a plus in politics; a perceived craving for perks, publicity or attention can be a minus in the wrong position. At a time when it’s clear the tails (the Tea Party movement, conservative talk show hosts) are wagging the elephant, Steele is proving to be an awkward fit – -and you’d think you could take bets now in Vegas (sorry Barack Obama) that Steele won’t be in his job one year from now.
Or can you?
Some of the news stories and media commentary is unflattering at best, brutal at worst.
Bloomberg’s Margaret Carlson’s column headline says that in this flap “Steele has no clothes” (as long as there isn’t a Viagra joke in there, we can live with it..). She starts out with this:
Bondage clubs, chartered jets, a lavish office re-do, winter meetings in warm places — such is life at the Republican National Committee since Michael Steele took over as chairman in 2009. In the world of fundraising scandals, this one makes former Vice President Al Gore’s visit to a Buddhist temple look as quaint as tea at Buckingham Palace.
The RNC moved quickly to quash the latest flap exposed March 29 in the Daily Caller, the Web site run by conservative Tucker Carlson. Steele wasn’t at the West Hollywood club, though his committee paid the $2,000 tab at the Voyeur, a pricey non- family values night spot featuring simulated sex acts. An RNC aide was immediately fired.
What a spectacular meltdown for a once-rising star. All Steele had to do to succeed was raise money and hone a message for a couple of years. He did neither. It’s hard to see how he keeps his current job (though he may be too big to fire) much less ever get one of the better ones he was destined for.
When Steele started, the party that prides itself on fiscal responsibility had $22 million in cash on hand. It now has $9.4 million.
Every time you looked, Steele, 51, was making headlines for what he said, did, or didn’t do…
And after an extensive commentary she concludes:
Steele’s tenure is enough to make Republicans long for the days of Clayton Yeutter, Rich Bond, Jim Nicholson, and Steele’s immediate, dull-as-dishwater predecessor, Mike Duncan.
Had they made a different choice, they might be feasting on the spending in Obama’s health-care bill right now, not defending a runaway spender who has given deeper meaning to Grand Old Party.
The bottom line: during a time when GOPers have seen that if they stay on message and hit the message relentlessly they can make progress in the polls and voting booths, Steele is throwing them off message since in the end the oxygen is sucked up with stories about him.
So this means Steele is on borrowed time? Not necessary. Fox News:
Publicly filed documents revealed this week that a Republican donor, Erik Brown, had been permitted to charge the RNC for a $1,946 visit last February to the Los Angeles strip club Voyeur. In response to the disclosure, the RNC Tuesday fired staffer Allison Meyers, the director of the committee’s “Young Eagles” program. It was Meyers who turned in the receipt as an expense.
Some RNC members say they are growing increasingly “frustrated” with Steele. The chairman recently went on his book tour without any RNC press aides and during the tour announced that the GOP “might not be able to lead the country.” Steele also controversially said on a cable talk show he thought some Republicans were “afraid of black people”.
However, the gaffe that may have upset party faithful the most was Steele’s decision to schedule this year’s RNC winter retreat in Hawaii. Many saw that as a decision totally out of step with normal Americans who are struggling through the present recession.
But well-placed Republican Party sources told Fox News they did not believe think the latest controversy, over the activities at Voyeur, will cost Steele his chairmanship. Ultimately, these insiders said, Steele’s job is to win elections — and the GOP has done well on that score lately.
And Fox News HAS the Republican sources. In other words, if it’s not broke don’t fix it, and if the Chairman is too flamboyant or spends too much,
restrain him stop him.
Attempts at quick damage control are starting now, since bigwigs don’t consider the reports and allegations
a gag a joke: it could lead to donors balking — particularly social conservatives who never dreamed that the money they gave to the GOP helped fund a stop at a bondage themed club.
This kind of scandal has profound implications for the GOP — fundraising problems at a time when many Republicans think the party is on the brink of making big political gains — and could make some GOPers long for the days when a scandal included the words “wide stance.”
So now there are news reports stressing that no one knew about it high up in the party, it was just an unofficial visit to a bondage themed club paid for by party funds. The Los Angeles Times:
A night out at a risque West Hollywood nightclub was an “after-hours nonofficial get-together” that followed a meeting of young Republican donors and should not have been paid for with party money, a top Republican National Committee official said in a memo released Tuesday.
RNC Chief of Staff Ken McKay said no senior party officials attended the outing at Voyeur, which features performers in bondage and sadomasochistic scenes. Nor did party officials know of the purpose of the reimbursement to the donor who paid the nearly $2,000 tab, the memo said.
A Southern California businessman, Erik Brown, paid the Jan. 31 bill on the understanding that he would be reimbursed by the RNC, party officials said.
McKay did not identify the RNC staffer who authorized the reimbursement, which prompted headlines and a spate of criticism Monday when first reported on the website the Daily Caller. But a Republican source with knowledge of the incident identified the employee Tuesday as Allison Meyers, a finance department staffer who was fired Monday.
“That person was aware that this activity was not eligible for reimbursement and had been previously counseled on this very subject,” McKay wrote in the memo to members of the Republican National Committee.
Meyers was in charge of the RNC’s Young Eagles program, which aims to recruit donors 45 and younger, a GOP official told the Associated Press.
And, indeed: a trip to the club might have been a more enticing way to recruit young donors than an autographed copy of Sean Hannity’s latest book or a life-sized portrait of Mitch McConnell.
The mini-scandal most assuredly hasn’t played well in the broadcast media — taking up time that could have otherwise gone to Republicans hammering home the party’s vote-seeking message.
Watch CBS News Videos Online
Meanwhile, even though Steele now seems not
tied linked to the club flap, he has inspired this Make It Rain Voyeur Club Remix on You Tube (WARNING: some adult images and words):
PREDICTION: Unless another ball and chain drops, Steele will remain in his job. If there’s more scandal — even if he is not directly involved — the clamor for a change will increase. Barring that, if the GOP makes good or decent 2010 mid-term election gains, he still may survive.
But if the election results prove disappointing look for Steele to be out, perhaps trying to sell a reality TV show.
If A&E won’t buy it, he can always pitch an adult one to HBO.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.