Why I support Michael Steele for RNC chair

Lenny McAllister Contributor
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I won’t apologize for it. As a Frederick Douglass Republican, I support Michael Steele’s bid for re-election as chairman of the Republican National Committee.

And yes, I know about the issues and controversies that have plagued Steele over the past two years. I didn’t like them. But I also know what I don’t like more: going back to a Republican Party that resembles the mood and feel of a 1960s upscale cocktail party — something where black folks are dressed to the nines, present and active, but mostly silent and serving as pawn-like support mechanisms.

To me, it comes down to this: the Republican Party’s brand is stronger now than it was two years ago, when Steele took over the helm of the RNC. That’s why Michael Steele deserves a second chance to make a first impression as RNC chair.

People far and wide complain about Michael Steele’s tenure, but there are only two main criticisms of him: First, that he has riddled the RNC with controversies since taking over the helm; and second, that he has not been able to raise enough money.

But these bumps in the road have not stopped Republicans from making the progress they desperately needed to make after their branding and voting problems in 2008.

The controversies that have plagued Steele’s RNC — everything from the well-intended (and perhaps much-needed) criticism of Rush Limbaugh to the LA bondage club scandal that tied RNC funds and strippers together in the media (sorry, I couldn’t resist) — became front-page news, which got people talking about the RNC. People were not talking about the RNC chairman or the ability of the RNC to attract new voters, new candidates, new activists, and a new image in 2008. Back then, it was a given that the Republicans were unconcerned about reaching the millennial generation and urban America in general — the very demographics that changed American politics by supporting Barack Obama. It is true that Mr. Steele’s affability has often led to a growing trait of “gaffability” that has hurt his personal brand, but his presence in the media has increased awareness of the Republican brand and helped humanize the party. Moves done by the Steele-led RNC over the past two years may be unpopular today, but his initiatives will benefit the Republican brand down the road. Another two years of Republican momentum and increased relevancy is worth the price of Steele’s occasional gaffes.

Steele’s critics have repeatedly hammered home his supposed inability to raise the necessary funds to win big elections. But those critics ignore the results of the two election nights he has presided over. If nothing else, Steele has proven his ability to both win big elections and change the image of Republican candidates and grassroots activists without watering down conservative principles.

Being able to raise money without being able to translate that money into electoral wins is useless. Ask Meg Whitman about having a healthy war chest but a poor image and message. If Republicans are more concerned about raising money than they are about electoral success and relevancy, they can go ahead and vote Steele out. But doing so will hurt the party’s image.

Money doesn’t win elections — people do. Say what you want about Steele, but there are more people involved in conservative politics and the Republican Party today than there were just two years ago, be it because of Michael Steele (who revamped the RNC website and expanded the RNC’s use of new media) or in response to Michael Steele. Despite what the amnesiac Republican base believes today, Steele’s leadership played a role in turning the GOP around. If Republicans want to continue to win, they shouldn’t abandon Steele. In the end, Republicans will have to ask themselves if controversy-ridden success is better than controversy-free defeat.

Lenny McAllister is a syndicated political commentator and the host of “Launching Chicago with Lenny McAllister” at 5 AM on The Talk of Chicago 1690 AM WVON (www.wvon.com) He is the author of the upcoming edition of the book, “The Obama Era, Part I (2008-2010: Diary of a Mad Black PYC (Proud Young Conservative).” Follow him at www.twitter.com/lennyhhr and on Facebook at www.tinyurl.com/lennyfacebook.