(Elizabeth Crum/Nevada News Bureau) – Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele in an interview on Monday said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s recent comparison of the opponents of health care reform to those who supported slavery combined with his statement about President Obama being more acceptable to white voters because he is “light-skinned” and does not have a “negro dialect” shows a “disturbing pattern of insensitivity and ignorance.”
“To say that a light-skinned black candidate is necessarily more acceptable to white voters than a black man with darker skin, that is just insulting, both to the President and to voters,” Steele said. “Senator Reid’s statements just show a shocking lack of judgment. And the fact that it is not just a one-time misstatement but a pattern, I think reflects a disturbing underlying attitude.”
When asked what that attitude is, Steele replied, “Ignorance, I guess. I really don’t know what drives a man to say these things.”
When asked about the seeming disparity between his own support for Trent Lott after the former Senate Majority Leader’s questionable remarks in 2002 and his call for Reid’s resignation, Steele said, “Look, regarding what happened with Trent Lott, many of us supported him because we knew him not to be the man he was being portrayed as.
But we were under a great deal of pressure and it was agreed, ok, there is a standard, and Trent Lott crossed a line – unintentionally but nonetheless, it was crossed – so he agreed to step down. All I am saying now is, let’s hold Senator Reid to that same basic standard. Or, if not, then tell me what the standard is. I want to know what the standard is.”
Responding to criticisms that he, like Senator Reid, sometimes lacks a “self editing mechanism,” Steele replied, “To some extent, that’s fair. I am passionate. I often speak off the cuff. In fact, I have no problem with others doing the same, but I draw the line at disparaging racial remarks.”
When presented with DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas’ recent comment (via his Twitter account) that the Republicans are stupid for wanting Reid to resign because he will presumably be easy to beat, Steele laughed and said, “There may be some wisdom in that.”
Regarding the disparity between his general demeanor when first elected chairman of the RNC, when Steele was was often described as “articulate” and “diplomatic,” and his more recent demeanor which even he has characterized as “hot headed,” Steele said, “Well, before I was elected to be the party chair, I was a commentator, working as a contributor for Fox News. I had an obligation to give unbiased commentary. As chairman of the party, I have chosen a side and am very passionate about the issues. I’m a cheerleader for a cause now.”
When asked whether his recent speculation that the GOP will not win back the House in November was perhaps more the statement of a “commentator” than “cheerleader,” Steele replied, “Well, either way, what I said was honest. I would like to say that my statement was taken out of context and overblown, though. Of course I intend to do everything possible to raise money, help candidates and motivate voters. I think 2010 is going to be a great year for us and that we are going to pick up seats. But it is going to be tough, and there is a chance we might not take back the House. That is just honest.”
When asked about recent party in-fighting, the battle between the party establishment and the Tea Party movement and how he reconciles his stated support for Tea Party activists with his need for “big tent” conservatism, Steele said, “I support the Tea Party movement, in that they passionately oppose big government policies and are against putting this country any more deeply in debt.”
“But I don’t believe either side should be trying to purge or exclude people when we all have far more in common than not,” he added.
“Purging is never a good idea except as it happens in your own back yard,” Steele said.
When asked to explain, Steele said that decisions about money and support in local and state races should largely be left to the state and local activists, party operatives and voters. “There should always be a balance between consideration for the conservative agenda and party platforms and pragmatism about who can actually win in any given election,” Steele said. “Local people are always in the best position to decide that.”
“We should not make every race a national referendum,” he added.
Regarding rumors that on the tail of a fairly brutal week for Steele in the media, former South Carolina Republican Chairman Katon Dawson is traveling to the committee’s winter meeting in Hawaii on January 25 for a possible coup to replace Steele as chairman, Steele laughed and said, “Look, the rumors are silly. Katon emailed and told me he was going to Hawaii months ago.”
When asked if he felt at all vulnerable to possible censure or to being voted out of the chairmanship, Steele said, “I really don’t think there is any serious plan to vote me out. We all just need to get back to the business of fund raising, working with campaigns and the winning the upcoming elections. And that is what I intend to do.”
Steele said he was later speaking at a private fund raising event for the Nevada Republican Party (NRP) and had “every confidence that a great deal of money will be raised and that the state party here will do its job in getting candidates elected in 2010.”