Top of the Ticket

Political commentary from Andrew Malcolm

Category: RNC

Steele's defense: I'm held to higher (black) standard

The Republican National Committee has been rocked by scandal lately. A low-level staffer was fired for approving the questionable expense item of taking a contributor to a voyeur nightclub. Wealthy donors are deserting the party -- sending their money to the senatorial and congressional campaign committees. And as Ticket reported last week, former RNC officials have launched a rival organization, American Crossroads, to raise $52 million for the fall elections.

At the center of the controversy is Michael S. Steele, who in January 2009 became the first African American to be elected chairman. Pilloried since for his lavish spending on catered meals and jets, Steele defended himself Monday morning on ABC's "Good Morning America."

Appearing without a tie -- as if to say, Hey, I'm just a regular guy -- Steele said he probably ruffled some feathers among the party's elders because "I'm not a Washington insider. I'm more grassroots oriented, not Good Ol' Boy Network oriented....I tend to come at it a little stronger, more streetwise, if you will."

But then, in a question from a viewer, ABC's George Stephanopoulos asked Steele whether he has a slimmer margin for error because he's black.

"The honest answer is, 'yes,'" he said. "Barack Obama has a slimmer margin. A lot of folks do...That's just the reality of it. But you just take that as a part of the nature of it."

This is dangerous territory for a crossover figure. If you say yes, you look like you're passing the buck, not accepting responsibility for your actions. At some of the low points of his candidacy, and even during his presidency, Obama has been asked this question. He always says no.

To his credit, Steele gets that, saying that he will be judged at the end of the day by the races he wins and the amount of money he raises to fund them, adding, "That's a standard I'm very comfortable with."

But his answer on race -- suggesting that critics were holding him to a higher standard than they would his white predecessors -- is likely to further anger Republican leaders, many of whom privately believe that Steele would have been fired months ago if not for his status as the party's first African American chairman.

-- Johanna Neuman

Click here to receive Twitter alerts of each new Ticket item. Or follow us @latimestot or And our Facebook FAN page is right here.

Is the Republican National Committee finished?

Tea Party activists at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City March 30, 1020 by AP

Since Michael Steele was elected chairman of the Republican National Committee in January 2009, the once Grand Old Party has suffered a series of gaffes, scandals and other signals of a party in distress. Then the "tea party" activists came to town, further endangering the brand.

The party's problems run on several tracks. For one thing, Steele seems to suffer from foot-in-mouth disease. He predicted on Fox News during primary season that Republicans would not win back the House in November, violating the classic political rule of always talking up expectations. Chagrined by his behavior, big-league contributors have taken their money elsewhere, bypassing the RNC coffers to bolster those of the Republican House and Senate campaign committees.

For another, with reports of Steele's affection for lavish spending -- and the RNC's debacle over expensing a donor's visit to a topless bondage nightclub -- defections are growing. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, that magnet for Republican dollars, has twice asked the RNC to remove her name from an invitation to its fundraiser in New Orleans in mid-April. And Tony Perkins, who as head of the Family Research Council helped make Christianity a wedge issue in American politics, told supporters to stop donating to the RNC and give their money instead to individual candidates whose values they share.

Now, in a development alarming for the RNC as an institution, a group of Republicans is starting an outside political group to go head-to-head with the RNC for wealthy donors and prominence. American Crossroads hopes to raise $52 million to help Republican candidates this fall. Steven Law is leaving his top post at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to run the group, and lots of top-name Republicans, such as former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie, are on board.

None of this is to say that Republicans won't have a banner year at the polls in November. These are midterm elections, fraught with danger for any president, and Barack Obama is a lighting-rod figure who provokes tremendous distrust among the conservative base.

Nor is this to suggest that the RNC is the only party of scandal -- in fact, Republicans were busy this week putting out word that the Democratic National Committee also spends lavishly on its donors. Fair enough, though so far no word of bondage clubs.

But for the RNC, the timing of this widespread defection from its base could not be worse. Tea party activists are promoting a different kind of model -- up from the grass roots, and emotional. And the Supreme Court has cleared the way for corporations to play a much larger role in this year's elections, a decision that already limits party influence.

Even Karl Rove sounds worried. In the Wall Street Journal on Thursday morning, George W. Bush's political guru offers the tea party activists some tips on how to keep from becoming a fringe group (which seemed to come down to: stop hanging out with birthers and 9/11 conspiratorialists, and adopt a positive agenda).

The Angry Right is unlikely to take his suggestions -- movements of the heart rarely like hearing from establishment elders about how they should conduct themselves -- but Rove's gratuitous advice does show concern by party regulars about how uncontrollable -- and how destabilizing to the Republican Party's future -- the tea party activists are.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: Tea party activists gather in Salt Lake City on Tuesday. Credit: Associated Press

Click here to receive Twitter alerts of each new Ticket item. Or follow us @latimestot or And our Facebook FAN page is right here.

'Drill, baby, drill' -- Obama channels Sarah Palin but Republicans complain anyway [text-updated]

Delegates to 2008 Republican convention shout
The crowd at the 2008 Republican convention erupted in cheers of "drill, baby, drill!" when vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin urged a change in the nation's energy policy. Calling for more nuclear plants and increased drilling, warning about the threat of an Iran or terrorists holding U.S. energy supplies hostage, she said: "We Americans need to produce more of our own oil and gas. And take it from a gal who knows the North Slope of Alaska: We've got lots of both."

Somewhere out on the campaign trail, Democrat Barack Obama was listening. Today he did something about it.

Reversing 20 years of federal policy, the Obama administration plans to open the spigots on offshore drilling along the East Coast and in parts of Alaska. In a major speech, Obama laid out the need for energy security in more detail than Palin did -- but announced his....

Continue reading »

What each said about the healthcare vote: Obama, John Boehner, Tim Kaine, Michael Steele


Remarks by President Obama after House vote, as provided by the White House

Good evening, everybody. Tonight, after nearly 100 years of talk and frustration, after decades of trying, and a year of sustained effort and debate, the United States Congress finally declared that America’s workers and America's families and America's small businesses deserve the security of knowing that here, in this country, neither illness nor accident should endanger the dreams they’ve worked a lifetime to achieve.

Tonight, at a time when the pundits said it was no longer possible, we rose above the weight of our politics.  We pushed back on the undue influence of special interests.  We didn't give in to mistrust or to cynicism or to fear.  Instead, we proved that we are still a people capable of doing big things and tackling our biggest challenges.  We proved that this government -- a government of the people and by the people -- still works for the people.

I want to thank every member of Congress who stood up tonight with courage and conviction to make health care reform a reality. And I know this wasn’t an easy vote for a lot of people.  But it was the right vote.  I want to thank Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her extraordinary leadership, and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn for their commitment to getting the job done.  I want to thank my outstanding Vice....

Continue reading »

RNC skewers Obama, Emanuel, Reid, Pelosi, other Democrats with satirical Valentine's Day e-cards

Rahm Emanuel satirical RNC Valentines Day

Who says you can't have fun in politics?

Especially at the expense of your opponents? Does that make it bipartisan?

The Republican National Committee unleashes today a whole box set of "special" Valentine's Day e-cards that you might not want to send to your sweetie. But to a friend anyway.

Just not a Democratic friend.

Yeh, sure, Chairman Michael Steele and his pals over at party headquarters on Capitol Hill would like you to....

Continue reading »

Republicans adopt watered-down version of the 'Reagan Resolution' purity test

RNC delegates

So what was that all about?

After weeks of feverish build-up, the great GOP Purity Debate fizzled out in mere seconds this afternoon, as the Republican National Committee — on a unanimous voice vote — adopted a watered-down version of the so-called Reagan Resolution.

As first proposed by Indiana lawyer and committee member James Bopp Jr., GOP candidates would have been required to meet at least eight of 10 prescribed positions on issues such as gun control, abortion, immigration and same-sex marriage. Otherwise, they would have received no financial or organizational help from the party.

Many here in Honolulu — including party Chairman Michael Steele — opposed the so-called litmus test, saying it would crimp recruiting and hurt the party’s inclusive image at a time the GOP is trying to broaden its support among independents and moderate voters.

So they set to work behind closed doors coming up with a substitute that would allow everyone to declare victory and get the heck back to the Hawaii beach.

The result is a vaguely worded five-paragraph collection of "whereas" and "resolved," urging the RNC “to carefully screen the record and statements” of candidates and measure that against “the core principles and positions” in the platform adopted at the GOP’s national convention in 2008.James Bopp Jr.

Bopp withdrew his original resolution — to applause from fellow committee members — and afterward declared he got everything he wanted, and more.

 “I see this as a broader, more effective, more comprehensive resolution than I proposed,” Bopp told reporters after withdrawing his resolution, to applause from committee members. “It goes to the core principles of the party, not just a few votes.”

As for those who missed a vigorous back-and-forth, fear not.

Looming over Bopp’s shoulder was Oregon Chairman Bob Tiernan, who engaged in the following:  

Tiernan: “It’s a suggestion… There’s nothing mandatory there. There’s nothing required. I am a chairman. I am not going take that back and make my candidates sign it. That’s ridiculous”

Bopp: “This is binding. You are to determine –  determine – that the candidate wholeheartedly supports…”

Tiernan: “There is nothing binding in there.”

Bopp: “Can I finish?”

Tiernan: “Read the words.”

Bopp: “Shut up!”

Tiernan: “That’s not nice.”

Hang 10!

-- Mark Z. Barabak

Click here to receive Twitter alerts of each new Ticket item. Or follow us @latimestot. You can also go to our new Facebook fan page here.

Top photo: Dick Wadhams, left, Lilly Nunez, center, and Mark Hillman, right, national committee members from Colorado, listen to RNC Chairman Michael Steele speak Friday. Credit: Associated Press. Bottom photo: James Bopp Jr. Credit: Associated Press.

RNC poised to reject candidate purity test in favor of platform fealty pledge

It looks like the Republican Party won’t be taking names or testing blood samples.

Meeting behind closed doors in Honolulu this afternoon the resolutions committee of the Republican National Committee adopted a watered-down version of the so-called “purity” test advocated by insiders who wanted candidates to complete a check list—8 of 10 needed to pass—to receive financial or organizational help from the party's national controlling body.
99 point 9 percent pure Ivory soap

The precise wording remains to be worked out.

But the gist is that candidates would have to pledge their fealty to the party platform—which is a lot less stringent than the original resolution sponsored by Indiana’s James Bopp, Jr., a longtime conservative activist.

“No checklist,” Bopp confirmed outside the committee room. “There’s none of that in the resolution.”

Still, Bopp declared himself satisfied—though he reserved the right to introduce his original version on Friday when the 168-member RNC meets in full session.

“The resolution that was adopted by the committee satisfies the concerns that I have and the need I think that we have for the party to insist upon accountability of our candidates to our core principles,” Bopp said.

Privately, many members of the committee disdained the proposal as silly and unnecessarily divisive at a time the party is on a political roll. A group of about two dozen state chairmen voted unanimously Wednesday to oppose the Bopp resolution, as it came to be called, and efforts were quietly underway to kill the resolution or render it moot.

“We’ve had unanimous opposition to the excesses of [President Obama’s] agenda,” said Dick Wadhams, Colorado’s Republican Party chairman. He called the Bopp resolution  “just totally ill-conceived and misdirected.”

-- Mark Z. Barabak

Resolved: That you need to click here to receive Twitter alerts of each new Ticket item. Or follow us @latimestot. You can also go to our new Facebook fan page here.

Michael Steele thinks he'd like another RNC chair term, but it's not really up to him

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele

News flash from Waikiki, Hawaii: Michael Steele isn’t going anywhere.

Not if he can help it.

Steele’s tenure as chairman of the Republican National Committee has been (to put it mildly) a bit rocky. Or perhaps boulder-y.

There's been a long catalog of controversial statements, gaffes and other missteps that have stacked up headlines to the point that fellow Republicans now cringe any time he passes near a microphone.

To name just the most recent: He ruled out Republican chances of winning back the House of Representatives in November (d'oh!), blindsided party leaders by writing a book criticizing the GOP and raised a stink when it turned out he’s been booking lucrative speeches as a side deal.

Then there’s this whole business of holding the party’s winter meeting in Hawaii (today’s weather:  delightfully sunny) while party leaders in Congress accuse President Obama of....

Continue reading »

Michael Steele defends RNC meeting in Hawaii, noting state is Obama's 'birthplace ... his backyard'

Michael Steele Speaking to reporters this morning at a Honolulu news conference, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele expressed frustration “at the response of some inside and outside the media … who have opined on the matter.”

The “matter” was the fact that the RNC is meeting in sunny Hawaii this week.

Steele started his defense by pointing out the obvious: Hawaii is one of the 50 states of the union (and has been since Aug. 21, 1959), so it’s a perfectly legitimate place to hold a meeting.

Moreover, Steele said, “The problems here in Hawaii that the people face are no different than the problems that are faced on the mainland.” He tossed a big bouquet to Gov. Linda Lingle, a fellow Republican, and said that by meeting in President Obama’s stamping ground -- his “birthplace … his backyard” -- Republicans were sending a signal the party was “going to compete on every inch of soil in this nation.”

-- Mark Z. Barabak

Click here to receive Twitter alerts of each new Ticket item. Or follow us @latimestot. You can also go to our new Facebook fan page here.

Photo: Steele addresses reporters today at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Honolulu. Credit: Associated Press

Republican meeting debates a purity test that Ronald Reagan probably wouldn't like

As Republican Party leaders toil amid the abundant sunshine at Waikiki Beachthe pain!  the agony!—one of the questions they must decide is: What makes a bona fide Republican?

A group of conservatives believe they have the answer. The 168 members of the GOP’s governing body are set to take up a resolution Friday that would require party candidates to check the appropriate box on at least eight of 10 issues.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele

Otherwise, forget about receiving any help from the national party.

The policy positions—support for lower taxes, smaller government and gun rights, opposition to same-sex marriage,  government-funded abortion, amnesty for illegal immigrants-- are pretty much in line with mainstream GOP thinking. 

But the idea of a litmus, or purity, test is repugnant to many Republicans; you know, that whole Big Tent thing.

Party Chairman Michael Steele has repeatedly voiced his opposition. "I don't think it is, or should be, the position of the Republican National Committee to sit on high judgment of someone's credentials to be a candidate," Steele told reporters this morning at a news conference.

On Wednesday, about two dozen state party chairmen voted unanimously to oppose the resolution, in a non-binding test of sentiments.

Meantime, behind closed doors—in windowless conference rooms at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, many, many yards from the ocean—efforts are underway to thwart or water down the resolution.

The proposal is dubbed the Resolution on Reagan’s Unity Principle For Support Of Candidates. That mouthful stems from words former President Ronald Reagan famously uttered, to the effect that a person who agreed with him 80% of the time was someone he considered a friend and ally, not a 20% enemy.  (Hence the 8-of-10 formula.) 

One of those chiefly responsible for Reagan’s political success was longtime advisor Stuart K. Spencer, the campaign consultant who helped propel a washed-up B-movie actor (or citizen-politician, if you please) to the governorship of California, and then on to the White House on the right coast.

Spencer is no fan of the Reagan Resolution.

 “If you’re in the game of outreach, broadening the base of the party, those kinds of things aren’t going to help out,” Spencer said in a phone conversation from his home outside Palm Springs. “If you’re trying to eliminate people from the party and get down to the ‘true believers,’ that’s what you’re doing.”

 Spencer, who serves as an informal advisor to several top Republicans in Washington, is a pragmatist who believes that a party and its candidates need to first win elections before they can make policy. That’s best done, he suggested, through addition rather than subtraction, by building rather than purging party ranks.

 He wouldn’t try to speak for Reagan on the Reagan resolution. But Spencer did say that “based on what I saw him do and what he said, he wouldn’t put those kind of constraints upon the party.”

Something else Reagan said many times, apart from the 80-20 formulation, was that “half a loaf is better than no loaf,” Spencer recalled.

“I don’t think he would be happy with all those self-imposed stringency things…. He might have held his nose a few times. But he believed if you’re a Republican, you back Republicans.”

As for hashing out policy and philosophical differences, “His attitude was, hey, that’s what primaries are for.”

--Mark Z. Barabak

Speaking of true believers, click here to receive Twitter alerts of each new Ticket item. Or follow us @latimestot. You can also go to our new Facebook fan page here.

Photo: Associated Press (Steele, file).


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...

About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
President Obama
Republican Politics
Democratic Politics



Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: