Interview with Former RNC Chairman Michael Steele

Interview with Former RNC Chairman Michael Steele

By The Situation Room - January 19, 2011

BLITZER: Michael Steele may still be adjusting to his new reality as the former chairman of the Republican National Committee. Just days after he was forced out, Michael Steele is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Michael, thanks very much for (INAUDIBLE).



BLITZER: What's the biggest single reason you believe why you were ousted?

STEELE: I think there was just a lot of noise and grappling for control of the RNC. I think that I came in with a very clear mandate from the members to move the party in a different direction, to get it out of its doldrums, get us back in a fighting path, and with that comes a lot of contracts and a whole lot of other things that people wanted to make sure that they were at the table with.

And that's part of it. I think also my style is very different, much more engaged on the streets of America, as you saw in the bus tour, I like to be out there with people. So it's just a different approach and a different style.

BLITZER: The new chairman, Reince Priebus, is a very different style.


BLITZER: Listen to what Karl Rove wrote this week. He said, "Priebus has begun an extensive outreach to the GOP's fundraising poobahs to explain there's a new fiscal regime in place. No more bloated entourages, sweetheart deals, and lack of financial oversight."

What an attack from Karl Rove on you.

STEELE: Yes, well, Karl has been attacking me for years. You know, clearly he's --


STEELE: I don't know, you have to ask him that. I think the reality of it is Karl doesn't know what he was talking about.

The fact of it is there were no entourages, there were no bloated budgets. We ran a very lean machine. We took every dollar that came into the building and put it back on the streets where it belonged.

BLITZER: They say the RNC now is 20 million in the hole.

STEELE: As is every other political committee in this town. And we are not the only ones. In fact, we are right in the middle of the pack in terms of where the D -- the D -- the Democratic Party is, the Republican Senatorial Committee, as well as Congressional Committee.

The members asked me to put the money to work to win elections, to spend the money to win. Guess what. We won. Amazing.

BLITZER: So why did they dump you?

STEELE: Well --

BLITZER: I mean, that's what I've had a hard time understanding myself.

STEELE: Well, I've been trying to figure that out myself as well, and I think the reality of it is they wanted someone different in there, they wanted someone who probably had a different tone about them than I have, and so that's fine.

I'm looking to move the party in a position -- into a position where we continue to engage with our activist community out there, that we go out and we build off of the successes of this past two years.

BLITZER: Do you feel betrayed?

STEELE: Not so much betrayed, disappointed. Disappointed. The only thing I've ever wanted to do, Wolf, is to do the job. That's all I've ever asked to do. And we did. We went out and raised $192 million. We did it differently because we did have 527s to contend with. We had a lot of folks out there saying don't give to the RNC, give to us, so we adapted.

BLITZER: But that was sort of a competition that was developed.


BLITZER: Whether it was Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie setting up their group, or Dick Armey setting up -- you're basically going after the same fat cat --

STEELE: You go after the same pot.

BLITZER: -- Republicans to get the money, and instead of giving to the RNC they were giving to these other organizations.

STEELE: And the difference is I -- if I've got a million dollars, I can give it to a 527, I can do that, I can get more bang for the buck than giving 30,000. But the RNC still needs that $30,000 to build its grassroots organizations around the country, and we got every dollar we could.

The other thing that we did that a lot of establishment folks like Karl and others don't get is that we not only took our volunteers and got them out there and engaged again, but they actually began to donate to the party. So a lot of small dollar donors came to the table as well.

BLITZER: Were you held to a different standard because you're a black man?

STEELE: That you'd have to ask those who hold those standards. I think --

BLITZER: What do you think?

STEELE: You know, I don't know. I mean, I think it's a hit or miss issue, hit or miss question.

I didn't look at my job in those terms. I looked at my job in terms of what did the members expect me to do -- raise money and win elections. I did, we won, and now I move on to other things.

BLITZER: Because as I pointed out, you get dumped even though you win special elections --


BLITZER: -- in Virginia and New Jersey --

STEELE: New Jersey.

BLITZER: -- even Massachusetts.

STEELE: Hawaii.

BLITZER: You have a crushing landslide in November.


BLITZER: You get dumped. The chairman of the Democratic Party, Tim Kaine, he's a nice guy, good friend of yours --

STEELE: Great -- yes --


BLITZER: I'm sure you like him a lot.


BLITZER: But they do really badly and he gets to stay another two years.


BLITZER: How do you explain that?

STEELE: I can't. There's no -- but that's politics. There's no logic to it. It's only political, and I think the people of in the party, particularly the establishment, are breathing a sigh of relief. They have control of the RNC, now let's see what they do with it.

BLITZER: When you used to get spoofed on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart"--


BLITZER: You saw -- seen those --

STEELE: Oh, yes.

BLITZER: -- those little puppets.


BLITZER: I want to play a little clip. I want your reaction.


BLITZER: Watch this.


JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": What do you make of your successor Reince Priebus?

"MICHAEL STEELE", PUPPET CHARACTER: Reince Priebus? Hs name makes no sense. It's jabibbilris. I left the Republican Party $20 million in debt with virtually no accountability. I'd say it's time for me to head back to the street, Wall Street. Make it rain, Frasier Crane. Woo-woo. It's my birthday. Woo.


BLITZER: He says he did the puppet thing because you didn't want to go on the show.

STEELE: No. I want to go on his show. I'd love to go on his show. You know, folks a little nervous about my going on his show because --

BLITZER: But you're the boss, you could have gone on his show.

STEELE: Well, look, you realize the boss has bosses. So, you know, at the end of the day you want to make sure that everybody is happy. And look, I'd love to --

BLITZER: You would have done well on that. I think you would have done well on that show.

STEELE: I -- that show, yes, absolutely.

I mean, look, I love all that stuff. It was fun to watch and it's humorous because, guess what, people are talking about the party. Yes, and it's, you know, it's satire. It's comedy. But there's also the fact that people understood that there was a different sheriff in town, there was a different way to do things.

BLITZER: You going to run for governor or senator? You were the lieutenant governor of Maryland.

STEELE: I loved being the lieutenant governor of Maryland and heartbroken the day we inaugurated, re-inaugurated Martin O'Malley. I was hoping it would have been Bob Ehrlich. And so, we'll see what's out for us down the road.

BLITZER: You're leaving that option open?

STEELE: Leave it open, absolutely.

BLITZER: Thanks for coming in.

STEELE: It's good to be with you, buddy.

BLITZER: Will you come visit us often here in THE SITUATION ROOM?

STEELE: You know I will. You know I will.

BLITZER: Michael Steele is a good guy. Thank you.


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Rich Lowry · November 7, 2014

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