Steele: “I Know How Caesar Felt”

January 18th, 2011 at 11:05 pm | 46 Comments |

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This past weekend, RNC Chairman Michael Steele lost his bid for reelection. Sitting down with FrumForum as he ponders his next move, perhaps the thing that gets the garrulous Steele most quiet is a mention of his successor, Wisconsin State Republican Chair Reince Priebus.

He had a good laugh about his portrayal on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart – as a blue Sesame Street character with a penchant for ending words with ‘-izzles’ and ‘-ibbles’.

“Jon Stewart. I have not done his show, but I’d love to do his show at some point,” the former RNC chair says. Guffawing, he tells me he has never uttered the word ‘O-bibble-care’.

But things get serious real quick when he’s asked about Reince Priebus. Steele had appointed Priebus to a coveted job on the RNC: general counsel. Priebus later turned his back on Steele when he decided to make his own bid for the Chairmanship.

“I know exactly how Caesar felt,” Steele says, without a hint of irony. “It is what it is.” He claims that Priebus had been planning to defect for six, seven, eight months before announcing a bid for the chairmanship. Steele was blindsided. “I trust my friends. Well, I guess the adage is right. In Washington, you should get a dog… We put a lot of resources in Wisconsin over the last two years… that’s what you do for [the] team.”

He doesn’t regret much, he claims. “Just gives you headaches.” But he does wish he had thrown a few more punches when he had the chance.

“I fight. I’m a fighter. The only thing I wish is that I could have slapped some folks upside the head more when I had the title and the job,” says Steele, smiling. “[But] now maybe I get to do that a little bit more.” How? Shrugging, Steele laughs again. “In my own way… All I know is that what goes around does come around. That’s the nature of politics.”

The last two years have been unquestionably controversial. Steele’s tenure was marked by accusations of financial mismanagement, gaffes and scandal. But he vigorously insists that his term as RNC chair was successful by the metrics that mattered, referring repeatedly to the accomplishments of Republicans nationwide: $192 million raised; 63 House seats gained; 21 state legislatures flipped from D to R; 6 new Republican Senators.

Even so, he remarks, more softly, “Clearly I didn’t perform well enough for folks.”

Later on in the conversation, Steele regains the swagger that he must have had when he indignantly proclaimed at the RNC debate earlier this month, “I don’t see the crisis as some may see it.”

Steele is especially unhappy about criticism that he didn’t cultivate big donors. “[There was] a lot of the noise about, ‘our major donors are not going to give because Michael Steel is chairman’. Why is that? What, is it my cologne? Bald head? What?” he asks.

“-Some said you didn’t work the phones hard…”

“I worked the phones every day. Every day,” he asserts.

His opponents – of which he has many – certainly don’t quite see his term as one of glittering successes. Republicans accomplished gains in spite of Steele, they say. “That’s just bull. And they know it is,” says Steele. “Most of those critics never even called to ask me to help. If things were so bad at the RNC, where were you? Why didn’t you call me and say, ‘Hey Chairman, I think this is really screwed up. I think I can help.’ Their first recourse was to run to the press.”

FrumForum ticked off the controversies associated with his last two years in office.

“There was that incident that you weren’t directly involved in,” I start, but he cuts in. “I wasn’t involved in it at all,” Steele says, anticipating my question about what Jon Stewart later branded ‘the lesbian bondage fiasco’. “I know what you’re talking about.”

“There was a staffer [who] did something she wasn’t supposed to do, and she got fired for it… the test of leadership is how you handle it. We got the money back, we fired the individual involved,” Steele says.

And the comment about Afghanistan? About how the war in Afghanistan was “a war of Obama’s choosing”?

“I maintain the point, as evidenced by the screaming cover of Bob Woodward’s book, Obama’s War, that the President made on a concerted decision to shift the emphasis away from Iraq and towards Afghanistan,” Steele said. “I want to win the war against terrorism. Period.”

But how about the controversy over your statements about abortion? The quote in GQ saying that abortion is “an individual choice”?

Steele demurs, insisting that he was being descriptive rather than prescriptive. “I was making a statement of fact… I gave my personal view, but you can’t deny what the law says,” he explains.

Over the course of his tenure, these gaffes contributed to a loss in faith among the Republican establishment. His coalition began to crumble. Priebus, a close ally, walked away.

Steele’s last few months were further marred by the unexpected resignation of his political director, Gentry Collins, who released a scathing letter criticizing the chairman and then went on to mount an unsuccessful run against Steele. “That letter was full of baloney and lies. And was soundly rejected by the members. Clearly,” said Steele, not without some satisfaction.

With his term as RNC chair behind him now, he occasionally gives off the feeling of a jaded man. But despite his musings, Steele says he wants to stay involved with politics. “I’m not a quitter. I believe in the fight. The real challenge for us is… How do [Republicans] begin to have long-term sustainable impacts that will help us, regardless of how the ebb and flow of political cycles are?”

“I don’t want to belong in a party that stays in its comfort zone,” he continues. “The comfort zone is [saying] we can only play here, with this type of person. The comfort zone is standing at the door with a checklist to see who is and is not a good Republican or a good conservative.”

He hopes to keep moving, and to continue playing a role in Republican politics. “Doin’ some TV here and there… [as well] there’s a presidential cycle coming up. I plan to play in that a little bit. Maybe a lot.”

Reflecting on where he was two years ago, Steele recognizes how quickly things change. He was the first African-American RNC chairman – on top of the world. But near the end, he was thinking about resignation almost every day.

“It was positive one minute, and then you have…” said Steele, searching for the right word. “Noise.”

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46 Comments so far ↓

  • ktward

    “I know exactly how Caesar felt,” Steele says, without a hint of irony.

    Near as I can tell, irony is a sentiment utterly foreign to the GOP.

  • rockstar

    So how can we make the Dems commit suicide?

  • Ed Gillespie, Nick Ayers to run Republican National Committee transition effort – Washington Post (blog) | Conservatives for America

    [...] …Cleaning Up After Steelemsnbc.comPriebus Continues House Cleaning At RNCFox News (blog)Steele: "I Know How Caesar Felt"FrumForumNews-Leader.com -Esquire (blog) -The Week Magazineall 121 news [...]

  • COProgressive

    “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”………ahh no, sorry!

    Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
    I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
    The evil that men do lives after them;
    The good is oft interred with their bones;
    So let it be with Caesar. The noble Priebus
    Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
    If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
    And grievously hath Caesar answer’d it.
    Here, under leave of Priebus and the rest–
    For Priebus is an honourable man;
    So are they all, all honourable men–

  • kevin47

    “Near as I can tell, irony is a sentiment utterly foreign to the GOP.”

    Not so. I have worked with a number of people within the party (including those who ran for chair), and the best ones have a strong sense of self-effacing humor. I think Steele got a bit caught up in himself, but to assert that an entire major party lacks a sense of irony only reveals your myopia.

    Further, I’ve read a lot of your comments, and do not at all get the sense that irony is your bag.

  • kevin47

    But yeah, seriously? Caesar? That’s a fork we stuck in you, sir, not a dagger.

  • rockstar

    Fine,

    So how can we make the Dems commit suicide?

  • pnumi2

    rockstar

    Make us a good example. We’ll be sure to follow.

  • New RNC Chair Comes Out Firing – Personal Liberty Digest | Conservatives for America

    [...] Post (blog)Cleaning Up After Steelemsnbc.comPriebus Continues House Cleaning At RNCFox News (blog)FrumForum -News-Leader.com -Esquire (blog)all 120 news [...]

  • Mark Rosenthal

    Well, Steele won in a flurry and then lost in a flurry. The GOP experiment with it’s first black RNC chariman sure didn’t last long, now did it…

  • pnumi2

    Is it the Ides of March already?

    Don’t forget your quarterly estimated payment. But don’t render it unto Caesar. He can’t use it any more.

    Render it unto the U.S. Treasury.

  • Reince Priebus’ To-Do List – CBS News | Conservatives for America

    [...] RNC Chair Comes Out FiringPersonal Liberty DigestHuman Events -Fox News (blog) -FrumForumall 123 news [...]

  • talkradiosucks.com

    One important difference being that, according to historians, Caesar wasn’t a blithering idiot.

  • DFL

    I think Steele is more Falstaff than Julius Caesar.

  • medinnus

    …Steele conquered Gaul?

  • midcon

    The GOP is at a point where they must rely on their base (which is not a foregone conclusion by any means) and the anger vote. Because the base is so small, they have no choice but to rely mostly on the anger vote to win elections. This should be very troubling to them, since they now have the House, they will be subject to the anger vote themselves. As long as Obama stays in the middle, the GOP will be hard pressed to mount any significant challenge to the WH with just their base. So their objective will be to keep the people angry in the run up to 2012, which means they can’t perform too well in the House or the economy will improve, which makes people less angry, but if they don’t perform, the anger vote will turn on them. Oh what to do, what to do!

    Although as an independent, I typically like to disparage the Democrats in equal measure, they at least have already marginalized their binary left into irrelevance and have a firm hold on left of center. So the more right the GOP moves, the firmer the grasp the Dems have on the center (even moving a bit to the right of center since the GOP has redefined the center by moving too far to the right). Which means the Dems, probably get the independent support.

    These are hard times for the GOP regardless of who is the head of the RNC.

  • Elvis Elvisberg

    Hoekstroika
    hohk⋅stroi⋅ka
    –noun
    Wingnut. A ridiculous statement that greatly minimizes the suffering of one group of people while wildly escalating the suffering of another group of people, when no such comparison exists. Usually for partisan political point scoring.

    Origin: a “twitter” from Rep. Peter Hoekstra comparing the violent repression of peaceful demonstrators in Iran with Republicans in congress:

    Iranian twitter activity similar to what we did in House last year when Republicans were shut down in the House. 8:56 AM Jun 17th from TwitterBerry

    More examples of real and made-up Hoekstroika here, here, and here.

    Real-life example: “On what basis does the Administration demand Zelaya’s reinstatement?” DeMint asked. “His removal from office was no more a coup than was Gerald Ford’s ascendance to the Oval Office, or our newest colleague Al Franken’s election to the Senate.” – Jim DeMint, (Wingnut, SC)”

    Made-up example: “Apparently Sarah Palin can also see the pogroms of 19th Century Russia from her house. #bloodlibel”

  • lessadoabouteverything

    I see both men’s point of view, Steele thinks he brought Priebus in to be part of his team, and Priebus thinks he was hired for his ability not his loyalty (which should not be a significant qualification, skill should) and that he is not the serf of Steele.

  • medinnus

    And so Priebus gathered 19 conspirators, and all of them stabbed Steele to death on the Senate floor… it must be true, I saw it on Faux News.

  • kevin47

    “The GOP is at a point where they must rely on their base (which is not a foregone conclusion by any means) and the anger vote. Because the base is so small, they have no choice but to rely mostly on the anger vote to win elections.”

    Every challenger needs the anger vote to win elections. Insofar as conservatives still constitute the base of the Republican party, the base is very large. For the last several cycles, the principle Republican advantage has been a large ideological base that outnumbers the Dems 2 to 1.

    “As long as Obama stays in the middle, the GOP will be hard pressed to mount any significant challenge to the WH with just their base.”

    The problem for Obama is that he is transparently uncomfortable governing from the middle. He might feel as though he has done enough triangulating with his tax plan. That said, he got an enormous gift from his own base after it went full retard in response to the Tuscon shootings. All he had to do was dispense some bromides about everyone getting along and he seemed like a reasoned moderate.

    If he gets more opportunities like that, where he can appear moderate without making policy concessions, he’ll be golden. The Republican’s, then, will endeavor to extract those concessions, and paint Obama as a leftist.

    “These are hard times for the GOP regardless of who is the head of the RNC.”

    It’s always hard to unseat a sitting president. Clinton was the last to do it, and he had a lot of help from Ross Perot. But the 2012 Senate map is very favorable. For the reasons you mention, the House is unlikely to substantially move in either direction (pure probabilities would predict regression to the mean, so expect the loss of a few R seats).

    The biggest issue Priebus faces is how to work with, rather than against, the 501.c.3s.

  • politicalfan

    rockstar- lol.

    I have a feeling that tossing out weird comments is an art of yours?

  • Michael Steele: 'Now I know how Julius Caesar felt' | Political Insider

    [...] an interview with Tim Mak on FrumForum.com: “I know exactly how Caesar felt,” Steele says, without a hint of irony. “It is what it [...]

  • Clifton Yin

    medinnus // Jan 19, 2011 at 8:46 am

    …Steele conquered Gaul?

    props for great use of historical humor!

  • Et Tu, Priebus | Featherly's Kevblog

    [...] Steele comes out swinging at the guy who made him what he was–the former chair of the Republican National Committee. [...]

  • kissthestick

    oh well, cant know his hustle, good luck to whatever steele does, i know alot of dems are secretly dissapointed hes not chair tho ;)

  • lessadoabouteverything

    kevin: The problem for Obama is that he is transparently uncomfortable governing from the middle.

    Huh? Obama has done nothing but govern from the middle. Maybe I missed the part the Bob Gates (Republican Sec. of Defense under Bush and then Obama) Geithner (formerly of the Fed. Reserve and one of the architects of Bush’s Tarp plan, now treasury Secretary) Larry Summers, etc. are all left wing radicals. Hillary Clinton is about a left wing as it comes in that administration, and she is at state.

    And no, Obamacare is not socialism, it is moderate health insurance reform akin to what Bob Dole pushed as an alternative to Clinton, and what Romney made in Mass.

    Obama has never been a leftist. He learned to be a conciliator when he was elected the first black President of the Harvard Law review, receiving the backing of the Conservative Federalists, of whom he appointed a record 3 as editors.

  • Michael Steele - "I Know Exactly How Caesar Felt" - CycloneFanatic

    [...] Steele, who was ousted last week as chairman of the Republican National Committee, said in an interview on Tuesday that "I know exactly how Caesar felt," invoking the famous last words of Julius [...]

  • politicalfan

    p2-”Render it unto the U.S. Treasury.” ha

    Please take Wasilla Calpurnia with ye!

  • Rob_654

    It looks like Steele hasn’t yet figured out that the only reason he got the spot in the first place was the the Republicans saw a black Democrat being elected as President of the United States and they realized just how “white” the Republican Party looked. So the RNC scrambled and found Steele who could be put up as a racial equalizer – and now that he served that purpose and the race of Obama hasn’t turned out to be that big of a deal (except among a small group of folks) they are moving back to who they really want.

  • DFL

    He’s more like Romulus Augustulus, the last emperor of the Western Empire. Romulus Augustulus was a non-entity, was forcibly retired but not killed. Romulus Augustulus was allowed to retire to an estate in Campania. Steele gets to retire to Prince George’s County.

  • kevin47

    “Huh? Obama has done nothing but govern from the middle.”

    Not in an American political context. He’d be a centrist in Massachusetts. That’s not the middle.

  • Houndentenor

    @kevin47 But Mississippi isn’t the middle either. Obama takes hits from both right and left. That sounds like the middle to me. Maybe not the middle between O’Reilly and Beck but hardly the far left.

    Oh, as for Steele. I am so sick of right-wingers with their martyr complexes. Everyone’s not out to get you. You just sucked at your job and probably should have been fired ages ago except they didn’t want the bad publicity for doing so. This isn’t about idealogy, but about competence. He sucked bigtime. Maybe he and Dr Laura and Sarah Palin can all find some island somewhere where they can have their pity party alone. Everyone else is sick of it.

  • NormaOlvera.Com » Blog Archive » Steele feels like Caesar

    [...] know exactly how Caesar felt,” Steele told the FrumForum website. “It is what it is.” Before orchestrating Steele’s ouster from the top GOP post, [...]

  • Shenandoah

    Queen Another One Bites The Dust Lyrics

    Steve walks warily down the street with the brim pulled way down low
    Ain’t no sound but the sound of his feet, machine gun’s ready to go
    Are you ready? Hey, are you ready for this?
    Are you hanging on the edge of your seat?
    Out of the doorway the bullets rip to the sound of the beat, Yeah
    Another one bites the dust
    Another one bites the dust
    And another one gone
    And another one gone
    Another one bites the dust
    Hey, I’m gonna get you too
    Another one bites the dust

    Watch out Republicans in name only…like Steele.

    We are Watching and we are Awake.

  • jakester

    If he knew how Julius Caesar felt, wouldn’t that imply he just got stabbed to death by his so called friends and allies?

  • Michael Steele Knows JUST How Julius Caesar Felt — Except for the Stabbing | Musings of a Parky Pundit

    [...] took his grievances to the conservative website, “The Frum Forum” to state his case and salve his many, many grievous wounds. “I know exactly how Caesar felt,” [...]

  • KBKY

    @kevin47
    I have to agree with Lessado about Obama. He’s pretty consistently criticized by both Tom Friedman and Glenn Beck (albeit with different levels of anger). I wouldn’t argue that he’s a center-right President, but I think in general (especially in terms of the economy), he’s been pretty middle of the road. The Republicans are very effective at painting middle-leftists as liberals, but he’s been far less liberal in the presidency than he was in the Senate. I tend to view him as more of a pragmatist with liberal leanings than anything else.

    Concerning Michael Steele, I can understand where he was coming from. Was it overly dramatic? Yes, but when you nuture another’s career you expect a degree of loyalty. I can’t imagine how angry I’d be if someone that I helped climb the career ladder helped get me fired and then took my job. I can’t exactly blame Priebus, however, since I believe Steele was quite incompetent in the post.

  • jakester

    Face it, Steele was the GOPs token no one really liked.

  • kevin47

    @Houndentenor

    “But Mississippi isn’t the middle either. ”

    Correct. But the fact is that Romney took Massachusetts in a leftward direction with his health care plan. To then take a state-based plan to control an industry and create a de facto entitlement, and apply it nationally, is a decidedly leftward concept.

    “Obama takes hits from both right and left.”

    That doesn’t make him a moderate.

    “Oh, as for Steele. I am so sick of right-wingers with their martyr complexes. Everyone’s not out to get you. You just sucked at your job and probably should have been fired ages ago except they didn’t want the bad publicity for doing so. ”

    Pretty much. It’s too bad, since I think Steele did make (and would make) a fine candidate for office. My impression is that he never stopped running, which is often the hallmark of very good candidates. I don’t think he’s a bad guy. I just don’t think this was a good fit for him.

    @KBKY

    “The Republicans are very effective at painting middle-leftists as liberals, but he’s been far less liberal in the presidency than he was in the Senate.”

    Of course. The ideological range of presidents is much more narrow because of our electoral college system. That said, he has governed to the left of Clinton by a long shot.

    Clinton was (somewhat unfairly) pilloried for a $30 billion crime bill, on the basis that it included silly provisions for innocuous fluff like midnight basketball. That said, his promise to provide 100,000 new police officers was notable in that it did not impose massive new regulations on how those police officers should do their jobs.

    That’s a good example of a center-left solution, devoting a reasonable sum of money at a national level to a government service while allowing it to operate as is. Obamacare commits thirty times more funds to a privatized solution for a much longer period of time. Further, it vastly increases government’s power to regulate a private industry.

    Tom Friedman thinks it would be great to be China for a day. Like many who come into money, he has lost all perspective.

  • pnumi2

    I served with Julius Caesar. I knew Julius Caesar. Julius Caesar was a friend of mine. Mr Chairman you’re no Julius Caesar.

    You’re Sid Caesar.

  • arc400

    In her broadcast, I believe Rachel Maddow referred to Julius Caesar as Mr. Cleopatra. That would be not Julius Caesar but Mark Antony, of “Brutus is an honorable man.”

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  • ktward

    Me: Near as I can tell, irony is a sentiment utterly foreign to the GOP.

    kevin47: Not so. I have worked with a number of people within the party (including those who ran for chair), and the best ones have a strong sense of self-effacing humor.

    I don’t think “irony” means what you think it means.

  • Will GOP ex-Chairman Steele take a cable news job? (The Cutline) | World News

    [...] told FrumForum this week that he planned on “doin’ some TV here and there.” The New York Post [...]

  • Steele Knows How Caesar Felt — Except for the Stabbing. | Musings of a Parky Pundit

    [...] Steele took his grievances to the conservative website, “The Frum Forum” to state his case and salve his many, many grievous wounds. “I know exactly how Caesar felt,” Steele says, without a hint of irony. “It is what it is.” He claims that Priebus had been planning to defect for six, seven, eight months before announcing a bid for the chairmanship. Steele was blindsided. “I trust my friends. Well, I guess the adage is right. In Washington, you should get a dog… We put a lot of resources in Wisconsin over the last two years… that’s what you do for [the] team.” He doesn’t regret much, he claims. “Just gives you headaches.” But he does wish he had thrown a few more punches when he had the chance. [...]

  • Steele Knows How Caesar Felt — Except for the Stabbing. | WorldNutzDaily

    [...] Steele took his grievances to the conservative website, “The Frum Forum” to state his case and salve his many, many grievous wounds. “I know exactly how Caesar felt,” Steele says, without a hint of irony. “It is what it is.” He claims that Priebus had been planning to defect for six, seven, eight months before announcing a bid for the chairmanship. Steele was blindsided. “I trust my friends. Well, I guess the adage is right. In Washington, you should get a dog… We put a lot of resources in Wisconsin over the last two years… that’s what you do for [the] team.” He doesn’t regret much, he claims. “Just gives you headaches.” But he does wish he had thrown a few more punches when he had the chance. [...]