Embattled RNC Chair Michael Steele told me this morning that last night’s election results should settle a few controversies about his leadership position. But he admitted his rocky tenure has been a tough one for many establishment types to swallow, and he wouldn’t commit to running for a second term as chair of the RNC.
“I’m not a conventional player, I speak my mind and I learned very quickly in this job that’s a very dangerous thing to do,” Steele told me on a conference call with reporters to talk about the GOP’s sweeping wins last night. Steele said he has learned “to be a little more careful, a little more measured, a little more sensitive if you will.”
“The learning curve was steep and quick, but I got it,” Steele said.
At last night’s GOP victory celebration in downtown Washington, Steele was almost nowhere to be seen. He gave one of the first speeches of the night — well before most guests had arrived or the press was playing close attention — and his name wasn’t mentioned by anyone on the dais. Contrast this with RGA chair Haley Barbour, who got several shoutouts as well as a speech in primetime. Despite the fact that many GOP leaders are on record criticizing Steele — and some seem to be really hoping Barbour will take Steele’s job — the chairman said that the lack of attention was no big deal.
“I don’t ever think this should be about the chairman of the party or any one individual when the stakes are so important and the consequences so dire for so many people around the country,” Steele told me. “So, you know, I take nothing from, you know, whether I was a topic of conversation or not a topic of conversation last night.”
On the call, Steele pointed to the wave of GOP successes last night as evidence that his strategy of focusing on the grassroots worked. He said that the RNC had a big role in the victories last night, and said he was proud of that the organization has done under his leadership. He dismissed criticism of RNC finances, claiming that it was his plan all along for the RNC to have low levels of cash on hand, a fact that has been often heralded by critics as an example of Steele’s failed leadership. He said that it was always his vision to spend money as soon as he got it, which was why the cash reserves were low.
Whether Steele will run again for chairman has been a storyline bubbling behind the scenes as Republicans racked up momentum and victories heading into last night’s huge win. He’s expected to run again, but hasn’t yet committed to doing so and didn’t today.
Steele won the last time by fostering relationships with RNC members in far-flung places like Guam and has been chided for taking his Fire Pelosi GOTV bus tour on a route that critics suggested appeared more aimed at his own re-election rather than his party’s electoral success. Steele suggested he still has support among those state-level members who elected him, but he wouldn’t say if he’ll run for chairman a second time.
“I’m going to take a little time and sort of reevaluate, assess and see whether that vision that I have still is viable and an opportunity for the party going forward,” Steele told me. “Then we’ll see where we are.”
“Overall I hope the members that elected me are satisfied with the efforts that we’ve done and that they will ultimately be the judge of what happens next,” he added.