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A Q&A with Michael Steele

Interview | The new chairman of the Republican National Committee lays out his strategy for bringing his party back to prominence

Michael S. Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, recently apologized for calling Rush Limbaugh's nationally syndicated show "incendiary" and "ugly," trying to defuse a feud that he acknowledged had taken his party badly off message.
CAL THOMAS: Any plans to resign in the wake of the flap with Rush Limbaugh and the criticism you've received?
MICHAEL STEELE: No!
THOMAS: Have you been listening to Rush?
STEELE: No, I haven't had time. Look, this is not a significant issue for me. It really isn't. There was no harm intended. There was no intent to hurt, defame, or otherwise embarrass. It was a moment in a conversation in which everyone was talking over each other and what I was trying to say didn't get out and the left picked up on it as part of their plan and it worked for the first couple of days. I refuse to contribute any more popcorn to the conversation.
THOMAS: One of the things Rush suggested was that Republicans seem almost embarrassed by their positions and try to curry favor with people on the left, especially in the media. Do you think that's a problem?
STEELE: I do think that's a problem, generally. I don't think we should worry so much about them and that's why I don't feed them. If I sat and worried about what The Washington Post was going to write about me tomorrow, I would stay in my room. . . . Once I saw what this was going to become, my goal was to try to not feel it in any way and not give it any life. CNN and MSNBC had fun with it. Well, God bless 'em. I'm glad they did. I hope they got some good ratings out of it, but I doubt it. That's what this little inner-Beltway psychology is all about. It's "gotcha." It's taking a little bit of this and putting it with a lot of that and making as much noise as you can. I understand that. My goal is not to embarrass my party or to put it in difficult positions. My goal is to win.

My style is a little different from most RNC chairmen we've had in the past. My style will be a little bit different going forward because I think that's what we need right now. We need someone who is willing to take risks, but also appreciates the difficult road we have ahead of us. There's got to be some sense of what the end game is and it is not getting into a fight with my fellow Republicans over crazy stuff, but winning elections.
THOMAS: Some have suggested you should cut back on your TV appearances. Will you?
STEELE: No, I'm going to keep my pace going because it's important for us to have a voice when a voice is needed out on the street. It boils down to this. The mice that are scurrying about the Hill are upset because they no longer have access to the cheese, so they don't know what's going on. It's deliberate. I don't want you to know what's going on because I don't need you pontificating on my decisions or second-guessing them before I make them. My process has been insular. This will be a two-part transition. The first part would be putting together a transition team of 10 or more members of the RNC who, for the first time in a generation, will actually do a diagnostic of this operation, top to bottom, every program, every position. And that's exactly what they've done for the last 28 days, since I became chairman.
THOMAS: How much longer will this process take?
STEELE: That's done. Part two began on March 1. I laid all this out. People seem to forget, conveniently, what we're doing. Part two is they're going to present to me a 100-day plan for every department in the RNC. In those recommendations will be where we will consolidate, where we eliminate and where we expand. This will represent the membership because it comes from the members. This plan has been deliberate, but it doesn't comport with what official Washington thinks it should be because they've always had a hand in it. They've always known somebody on the inside who's talking. Those folks aren't here now.

I want to put in place an operation that is functional for the members of this party. This is not about building up this building and making it what it once was. It's an opportunity to devolve it back to the states and empower them to raise their money, run their campaigns, develop messaging, be connected to the Internet and each other, and have us be their backup. Our charge for those who voted for us is to win elections. It is not about all the other stuff that people get lost in. It's about wins and losses. That's it. That's what you're judged on.
THOMAS: Do you think President Obama is serious about bipartisanship?
STEELE: No, he's not. Having a photo-op with a bunch of Republicans, inviting them to have a beer with you or watch a football or basketball game is great theater, but when you don't take our suggestions seriously, when you don't respect our staffs and involve them in the vetting process, when you don't confer with the leadership of the minority party for the implementation of some of their suggestions, you're not serious about bipartisanship. It's easy to be bipartisan when you outnumber the opposition by 2-to-1. It's easy to be bipartisan when you're one vote away from a filibuster-proof Senate. So I can be bipartisan all day long, because you are not empowered otherwise, so you're not a threat.
THOMAS: But when Republicans held a congressional majority, they did the same thing to Democrats. They shut them out.
STEELE: Right, and everybody clamored for bipartisanship. Did they get it? No. This is the nature of politics. Bipartisanship is a fiction in politics. I've been around this town for a long time and I've seen the bright-eyed, bushy-tails come into town and I've seen them leave town with their tails between their legs. The process is not designed to incorporate this ideal as an everyday reality. The proof is in the pudding. You think [White House Chief of Staff] Rahm Emanuel is considered a bipartisan player on Capitol Hill? He's running the entire government. That should tell you something.

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