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By Jay Cost

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Should Steele Stay or Go?

Boy oh boy, Michael Steele just cannot seem to stay out of the headlines. No sooner had the controversy about Rush Limbaugh died down did another begin - this time with Steele suggesting that he was in favor of "choice" on abortion.

Republicans are now having a conversation among themselves about whether Steele should stay or go. I'd like to offer my two cents on that, drawing upon what I have already said about the RNC chairmanship (see here, here, here, and here).

Politico's "Arena" has a discussion this morning around the question: "Is there room for Michael Steele in the GOP tent? How small can a tent get anyway?" This question is entirely misphrased, and Republicans should generally avoid thinking about Steele from this perspective. Steele is not a legislator whose "heterodoxical" views Republicans should "tolerate." Similarly, he is not a voter who agrees with the party more-often-than-not, but who has serious disagreements, and who the party should try to court, even if it means diminishing its ideological "purity" a little bit. If he were either of those things, we could reasonably talk about whether or not tolerance and "big tentism" is called for here.

Instead, Steele is a party employee with a job to do. Namely, he's tasked with helping the party win as many elections as possible. And while I agree that broadening the GOP's reach is an important goal for Republicans - it is simply not the principal goal of the RNC Chairman. It's one goal, but it is not his principal goal. The reason is that this is such an enormous task that the chairman of the RNC simply lacks the capacity to do it. We're talking about average voters here - not cable news junkies. For instance, we're talking about voters who recently voted Republican but have since switched to the Democratic Party. I guarantee you that if Michael Steele collected all of them in a room for an hour to preach to them the virtues of big tent Republicanism, the first thought 99.9% of them would have is, "Who the hell is Michael Steele and why should we listen to him for an hour?" In the grand process of party communication, the RNC Chairman is small potatoes. That's not to say he does not have a communicative role, but it is just not his chief job.

His chief job is to raise oodles of cash. And let's just be clear about how much money he has to put together:

-In 2004, the RNC raised $746 per minute.

-In 2006, it raised $462 per minute.

-In 2008, it raised $813 per minute.

That is the principal job of the RNC Chairman. It's not to hold hip hop outreach summits, praise P Diddy and the Pack Rats, or anything like that. It's about the money - first and foremost.

Bottom line: if Michael Steele cannot keep pace with - nay, exceed - past RNC fundraising hauls, the party as a whole will suffer, and it will be less able to take advantage of any opportunities it will have. Thus, if Republicans believe that he cannot keep pace, they should dump him as soon as possible and find somebody who can. And put aside the big tentism. That's just a red herring that is entirely inapplicable to the job of RNC Chairman.

I'd take this a step further: Republicans should be very concerned that Steele will be unable to raise the money. Again, we can talk about big tentism all we like, but to raise these funds, Steele is going to have to court Republican donors. These people, I'm just guessing, are pro-life and generally have warm feelings about either Rush Limbaugh or Snowe, Specter, and Collins. They are more inclined to pay attention than average voters - and they probably know at least a thing or two about what he has said. I'm guessing they were none too thrilled with him allowing DL Hughley to trash the RNC Convention as a Naziesque rally. And so on.

In other words, the GOP should be concerned that Steele is burning bridges between the RNC and the donating portion of the GOP base. This cannot be allowed to happen.

More broadly, Republicans need to get beyond the idea that losing in 2006 and 2008 requires 40 years in the wilderness and 40 lashes with a wet noodle. The party lost. It happens to every party sooner or later - especially when a war is mismanaged (by a President, not a party) and it gets bit by the bottom end of the business cycle. Even with all that, the GOP nominee still pulled in more than 45% of the vote. Yes, reforms in the party are needed - but for goodness sake, Republicans are members of a party that has been around for more than 150 years! A little confidence, and some Burkean perspective on the big picture, is called for. There is no need for a radical rebranding of the party, and there is certainly no need to tolerate a chairman who seems serially intent on alienating the donor base by dumping on the individuals and positions of his side, and playing into the hands of a White House working actively to keep the GOP on the outs for eight more years. This is not a prerequisite for victory. Money is, and if Steele can't bring it in - he needs to go. Period.

-Jay Cost