Steele supporters discuss whether he will debate

Jonathan Strong Jonathan Strong, 27, is a reporter for the Daily Caller covering Congress. Previously, he was a reporter for Inside EPA where he wrote about environmental regulation in great detail, and before that a staffer for Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA). Strong graduated from Wheaton College (IL) with a degree in political science in 2006. He is a huge fan of and season ticket holder to the Washington Capitals hockey team. Strong and his wife reside in Arlington.
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Every declared candidate for Republican National Committee chairman has confirmed his or her attendance at a Jan. 3 debate co-hosted by The Daily Caller and Americans for Tax Reform except the incumbent, embattled Michael Steele.

Wednesday, two of Steele’s dwindling supporters described the thinking process behind potentially not showing at one of the contest’s two major public forums.

Robert Kabel, chairman of the District of Columbia Republican Committee, said Steele will show at the “real debate” – a closed door session with the 168 members of the RNC.

“He could spend two hours explaining himself, and he could easily do that” at the Jan. 3 public debate, said Kabel, “but he’s already going to spend several hours of explaining himself at the members only meeting.”

If leaving the future of the Republican party to a closed door meeting of 168 often parochial party bigwigs seems odd, such is the structure of the RNC, which has insulated Steele from outside pressure when major GOP figures called for him to resign over the last two years.

Pat Rogers, the national committeeman for the New Mexico Republican State Committee and a top Steele ally, noted that Steele participated in a public debate when running for chairman two years ago. “I thought that was helpful,” said Rogers.

Now, “there’s no dearth of information” about his tenure over the last two years. “I just don’t know if he’s gonna participate,” said Rogers. “I have mixed feelings.”

Though Steele’s support has plummeted in the past two months, both Rogers and Kabel, the first openly gay chairman of a state party, are sticking by their man.

Rogers credited Steele for the massive Republican electoral wins on Nov. 2. “I’m biased towards results,” he said.

Kabel said Steele has been a personal friend for around 15 years, and “I think he’s done a remarkable job.”

Kabel cited Steele’s decision to pour resources into gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey and the Senate race in Massachusetts, which he thinks was a key momentum builder for the GOP heading into the midterms.

Kabel acknowledged Steele’s many foibles. “Obviously he’s had some missteps. But he admits that,” he said.