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ROBB AUSTIN'S TURN

Steele Needs to Focus on Winning Elections

March 30, 2009

Politics is an interesting business because it’s one of the few enterprises where someone might gain notoriety or their views may be taken seriously despite very little in the way of actual accomplishment on their resume.

We see it every day among talking pundits on the cable networks shows - persons who have not held public office and in many cases have not been directly involved in a political campaign - yet they espouse their personal opinions and many take their views seriously.

It’s reminiscent of first-time candidates - who often feel entitled to the fruits of victory at the start of a campaign - namely 100 percent name identification, constant press attention, or the ability to raise untold amounts of money - not understanding that these are the end results of a long, grueling, and successful campaign.

One such person who is succumbing to this political phenomenon is newly elected Chairman of the National Republican Committee - Michael Steele. He believes he is the leader of the national Republican party - yet he has failed to oversee the winning of even a single election.

Steele has been universally panned for his job performance as RNC Chairman - just two months after starting the job - namely over gaffs made on national television. There is also talk that a "no confidence" vote may be taken against him by members of the Republican National Committee who are unhappy with his job performance already.

Steele was elected RNC Chairman amid great fanfare on January 30 on the final ballot of the voting delegates of the Republican National Committee and is the first African-American to be elected Chairman.

The basics of his job are to organize and oversee strategies to win elections for Republicans on the local, state, and federal levels. It is a tough, demanding, difficult, and thankless job - and one that cannot be done in the spotlight - nor on the political talk show circuit.

Yet Steele has continuously subjected himself to political talk shows and has said things that are offensive to Republicans. When Democrats annointed talk show host Rush Limbaugh "de facto leader" of the Republican Party - Steele got defensive. He insisted that Limbaugh was an "entertainer" and wanted everyone to know that he (Steele) is the official leader of the national Republican party.

Even Limbaugh did not take the Democrat talk seriously - but Steele was offended that he had been bypassed.

The 1976 Jimmy Carter presidential campaign laid out the best political advice for political advisers, consultants, and party leaders: "The political process is like going into the bathroom," the Carter blueprint stated, "Everyone knows what’s going on - but it’s best kept behind closed doors."

Steele could learn a lot from this bit of advice from the Carter campaign. The political process works best quietly - not in public view - and this applies to his efforts to revive the Republican Party as well.

Steele’s credentials are impressive. He is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and the George Washington School of Law. He was selected as the running mate of then-Congressman Robert Ehrlich in his race for Governor in Maryland in 2002 - and became Lieutenant Governor when Ehrlich was elected Governor.

He ran a smart campaign for the United States Senate in 2006 but lost to a lackluster Democratic Maryland Congressman named Benjamin Cardin 54% to 44%.

Steele may yet settle into his position and oversee a surge of Republican victories in election cycles to come. There is a special congressional election in New York on March 31 and that race could silence the critics if the Republican candidate wins.

For now his best strategy is to focus on the nuts and bolts of winning elections - personal notoriety and a surge in the Republican party will come if he wins.

Pontificating and making a spectacle of himself on cable news will not help.