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By Jay Cost

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Tracking Michael Steele

I spent a good part of last week analyzing Michael Steele's brief tenure of the Republican National Committee (see here, here, and here). There have been a few small news items on this front since then that I wanted to catch readers up on.

First, Mike Allen at Politico has this report:

EXCLUSIVE -- MICHAEL STEELE IN THE GARAGE: Look for the embattled RNC chairman to stay off TV this week, declining interviews while he picks a senior staff ahead of his March 31 target. His terrible week culminated with a "Saturday Night Live" portrayal of him wearing an electrode "that the Limbaugh people put in."

This is good news for Republicans - when you're digging yourself a hole, the best thing to do is stop digging.

Unfortunately, some damage might already be done. Last week, I wrote that Republicans should be worried that Steele's antics will turn off Republican donors. From NRO's Jim Geraghty, we learn that GOP leaders are indeed worried:

[A state party chairman who preferred another candidate in the RNC Chair race] was worried about long-term fallout from Steele's tiff with Rush Limbaugh.

"A tremendous number of Rush's listeners are GOP donors, and they're fragile donors. Will they come back? The worst thing Rush did is speculate that his listeners wouldn't donate. That was a huge signal [to listeners]. That was damaging to us, and that's the real carnage from that fight, not Michael Steele's reputation."

That chairman must not have loved Steele's interview with the New York Times where he again ripped his own party:

"I'm trying to move an elephant that's become mired in its own muck," Mr. Steele said in an interview last week in his sunlit Capitol Hill office, pausing whenever he appeared on the giant television close by his desk.

"You can say, 'He's crazy, he's running off at the mouth,' " he said. "Or you can say, 'It kind of makes sense, and I get it.' "

Lovely imagery - but still I'm left wondering, how is this consistent with his principal job, and exactly what does he think that job is? It's to raise cash and help his candidates, not to reform the party's image (whatever that means!).

Of course, the previous RNC Chairman - Mike Duncan - raised a boatload of cash ($428 million, a record in hard money donations for a party committee), and the GOP threw him out of office. Duncan left office with $22 million in the bank (a rare feat), and Steele is spreading that money around. This is from Chris Cillizza:

The Republican National Committee is donating $1 million each to the party's House and Senate campaign arms, a sign of Chairman Michael Steele's commitment to down ballot races, according to those familiar with the move.

"The Republican National Committee stands by our outstanding leaders in both houses of Congress," said Steele, adding that it was an "investment in Republican strong principled leadership."

The money will come in handy for the National Republican Congressional Committee as it seeks to claim a special election victory in New York's 20th district at the end of the month. On Wednesday, the NRCC made its first independent expenditure in that race, dropping nearly $50,000 on media and polling in the contest.

Republicans should be genuinely cheered by this. I've noted on this page before that coordination between party committees is ad hoc, dependent upon the individuals running the committees rather than on a set of party rules or expectations that party committees will actually work together. If 2010 turns out to be a year when Republicans can make gains, then coordination between the committees will be critical for making the most of it (and 1994 was a cycle in which there was a great deal of interaction between the NRCC, NRSC, and the RNC).

-Jay Cost