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Why Republicans can still win in 2010 even with Steele at the helm

April 6, 2010 |  8:34 am

RNC Chairman Michael Steele at the JFK School fo Government at Harvard in Cambridge, Mass. on Feb. 3, 2010 by AP
Watching the implosion at the Republican National Committee is better than reality TV. Sort of "Dancing with the Stars" meets "Celebrity Apprentice." Cue the popcorn.

The latest plot developments: Chief of Staff Ken McKay was pushed out, the fall guy for that disastrous episode where RNC staffers expensed a night out at a voyeur bondage club for a Republican donor. Not exactly in keeping with the party's preferred branding as the stewards of fiscal conservatism.

Then there's the defection of key money raisers like Sam Fox and the formation of American Crossroads, a rival group of former RNC officials planning to raise $52 million to make sure Republicans win in November.

Already, the long knives are out for RNC Chairman Michael S. Steele, who defended himself Monday by saying that he was being held to a higher standard because he is African American.

But the odds are that Steele will survive -- and that Republicans will still have a very good year at....

...the polls in November -- despite the soap-opera quality of their current party structure.

For one thing, the political wind is at their back. Polls show that Americans are divided on President Obama's initiatives -- particularly healthcare, the economic bailout and offshore oil drilling. But voters seem unanimous in one area -- they hate the politicians in Washington, especially the incumbents. And since there are more Democrats than Republicans holding office, well, you do the math.

For another, the historical trend always favors the party out of power in midterm elections, perhaps sensing the need for a new character or plot twist in the national drama. Thanks to those "tea party" activists fueling a voter rebellion, history will probably trump in-house party politics.

Maybe that's why unpopular, even discredited party chairmen have still managed to bring home impressive victories for their crews. Just ask Howard Dean, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee who in 2008 won impressive victories in the White House, the Senate, the House and the governor's mansions and was still so disliked by the insiders at the end of the show that he was not offered a contract renewal.

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And maybe that's why former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who led an electoral revolution in the 1994 midterm elections that interrupted President Clinton's friendly Congress, urged Republicans to stop piling on Steele and start attacking on that mortal enemy -- the Democrats. "It's foolish for Republicans to focus on Michael Steele as a person and it's better to focus on Democrats," Gingrich said on NBC's Today, adding that Steele "is capable of taking us through the midterm elections."

Maybe we should call it Desperate Donors.

-- Johanna Neuman

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Photo: RNC Chairman Steele. Credit: Associated Press