Tarnished Steele

Hurricane Isaac reignites feud between GOP and former party chair Michael Steele
Michael Steele / AP

Michael Steele / AP


The Republican National Convention’s delay due to Hurricane Isaac has reignited the long-simmering feud between the GOP and its former chairman, Michael Steele.

Several Republican officials are blaming the delay on Steele, the man who was in charge when the party chose to host the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Tampa during hurricane season. Steele ignored public warnings about potential weather problems, they said.

“This is the latest example of Michael Steele’s gross mismanagement,” one senior Republican official said. “He wanted a place to have fun, so he ignored the post-Katrina rule that you don’t have your most important event in a coastal city in August.”

Hurricane Isaac forced Republican officials and Tampa authorities to delay the festivities by at least one day.

Steele told the Washington Free Beacon that he stands by the decision, though it was not his alone. In 2010, a committee of about 30 delegates chose Tampa over Salt Lake City and Phoenix. The entire party leadership then ratified the choice.

“168 members of the Republican delegation chose the city of Tampa. I didn’t have a vote, but guys like [Steele’s replacement RNC chair Reince] Priebus had a vote,” Steele said in a phone interview.

Priebus succeeded Steele as head of the party after a rocky tenure and contentious vote. Steele, the first African-American party chairman, did not endorse Priebus, the former head of the Wisconsin party.

Another Steele colleague, who wished to remain anonymous to protect his job, said Steele steered the decision toward the Florida city.

“He appointed the committee and he set the agenda,” the former official said.

Steele defended the process, noting that the RNC included the possibility of inclement weather and drafted contingency plans.

“This was all taken into consideration, we even planned for a digital convention where we’d hand out iPads to delegates if a storm prevented them from coming,” Steele said. “Anyone who suggests this is my fault is an idiot and acting on ignorant politics.”

He dismissed the idea that Arizona’s controversial immigration law and Romney’s Mormon faith eliminated Phoenix and Salt Lake City, respectively, from contention.

“This was a business decision, not a political one,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we had the fundraising and capacity for 50,000 people—that’s what we were looking for.”

Steele arrived in Tampa on Saturday after being delayed several hours—”it was mechanical problems with the first plane, not weather”—but will attend the convention as a MSNBC analyst, rather than as a Republican delegate.

“Former party chairmen are very often given credentials to attend,” he said. “It was very unfortunate that mine did not come … but the party and the locals in Tampa have done a great job preparing and my hat’s off to them.”

Steele’s two-year term as head of the GOP was marred by a series of gaffes. He crossed social conservatives by coming out as pro-choice after he won the post. He angered fiscal conservatives by spending lavishly. He caused controversy among all Republicans when he said that the party would not win the 2010 congressional elections and was not ready to govern if it did.

He still has defenders within the party, however.

“Tampa is a good place to have the convention, it’s a great city and an important one in a swing state that we are running close in,” the former GOP official said. “These things happen—even if we weren’t in Tampa, we would have delayed just like we did in 2008 during Hurricane [Gustav].”

Steele is not too concerned about his legacy in the party, specifically because of the midterm success.

“You have two jobs as chairman: to raise money and win elections,” he said. “Well, we raised $198 million and used it to win the biggest midterm boom in the last 50 years and we added minorities, women, African-Americans in Congress.”

Other former GOP officials said their former boss’s calamities would define him.

“He’s the nicest egomaniac you’ve ever met,” an official said. “He ran as this anti-establishment candidate and he ended up almost justifying the establishment. He left us in poor shape.”

The convention is slated to begin on Tuesday—weather pending.

Bill McMorris   Email Bill | Full Bio | RSS
Bill McMorris is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. He joins the Beacon from the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, where he was managing editor of Old Dominion Watchdog. He was a 2010 Robert Novak Fellow with the Phillips Foundation, where he studied state pension shortfalls. His work has been featured on CNN, Fox News, The Economist, Colbert Report, and numerous print publications and radio stations. He is a 2008 Cornell University graduate and lives in Alexandria, Va with his wife Teresa and daughter Olivia. His Twitter handle is @FBillMcMorris. His email address is mcmorris@freebeacon.com.

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