TAMPA, Fla. — Former Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele said the idea that another GOP presidential contender could enter the race in February is “just outright stupid.”
“There are 13 states after Florida that still have deadlines that are open, that haven’t been reached yet and anyone can jump in — but that means you’re only on the ballot in 13 states,” Steele told The Daily Caller in the spin room after Monday night’s GOP debate in Tampa.
“I think any conversation about having someone else come into this race at this point is not even feasible, it’s just outright stupid.”
Unhappy with the current crop of Republican presidential contenders, some conservative opinion leaders and Republican activists, including Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, have argued that it is still not too late for another big-name candidate — like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush or Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels — to jump in the race, so long as they do so by early February.
Political analysts Rhodes Cook even laid out in December how such a candidacy could be imaginable, arguing that the late-entry contender would have to tailor his strategy to adopt the “uncommitted line” and launch write-in campaigns in states where such options exist and where it is too late to get on the ballot. As for caucus states, Cook noted, “filing deadlines are rarely an issue.”
Cook concluded that a well-known GOP figure “could enter the race in early February and still compete directly in states with at least 1,200 of the 2,282 or so GOP delegates. Many of them will be up for grabs after April 1 when statewide winner-take-all is possible.”
Nonetheless, Steele argued the GOP base would react negatively to what he said would essentially be perceived as the so-called “establishment” foisting a candidate upon them. (RELATED: Full elections 2012 coverage)
“It’s the establishment of Washington again foisting on them someone who didn’t go through the gauntlet, had not come to their kitchens or their businesses, that we’re now told we should support because these other guys aren’t right for the establishment crowd?” Steele asked rhetorically.
“I think that would be wholly rejected by the base. So any effort to do that by an individual they should think twice about because it would ruin any prospects they would have for future opportunities in the party.”
Steele also said that without any audience participation, Monday night’s debate was much more subdued.
“I think people, after 18 debates, kind of like the excited utterances, you know, and sort of the whooping and cheering that kind of affirms their feeling as they’re watching it,” he said.
“That energy was missing. It’s the kind of energy that the candidates feed off of for good or bad. … It helps you sharpen you focus in the way you respond to questions as you get that feedback from the audience.”
As for whether he thought an elongated and contentious primary season would hurt the Republican Party, Steele said he didn’t think so.
“Look, we designed this for the primaries to run a course longer than four weeks and the hope was in the conversations and meetings we had in putting this plan together that this thing could go as far as April, maybe even May depending on how the candidates do,” he explained.
“The goal was to allow them the opportunity to state their case. They didn’t have to come to the table with a bankroll of cash necessarily that through the process they would have a chance to make the argument. I think we’ve seen that and I think it’s been good. I think the base has had an opportunity to put their imprimatur or begin to put their imprimatur on this campaign and I think that’s important.”