On Michael Steel, CPAC’s Walters Called “A Spade a Spade”


Michael Steele. Photo: Gage Skidmore–Flickr


Recently, at the Ronald Reagan dinner, CPAC Communications Director Ian Walters made the following comments, referencing the year 2009:  “…we (CPAC) were somewhat lost as a group. We had just elected the first African American president and that was big deal. That was a hill that we got over and it was something that we were all proud of and we weren’t sure what to do. And with a little bit of cynicism what did we do? This is a terrible thing. We elected Mike Steele to be the RNC chair because he’s a black guy; that was the wrong thing to do…”

Walters’ comments touched off what I’d describe as a bit of a kerfuffle or a commotion or fuss. What it wasn’t, was the “firestorm” as some would like to describe it.  Why?  It’s not that Ian Walters was wrong; he just said what he and many others believe to be the unvarnished truth. He called “a spade a spade.”

In 2009, after Steele was elected on the 6th and final ballot to become the first African American chairman of the RNC, I wrote an Op Ed entitled, RNC Chairman Michael Steele: Old Republican Wine in New Bottles?, wherein I wrote, “Steele believes the Republican Party has an ‘image problem.’ He thinks that he will be able to bring the Republican message to African-Americans, Hispanics and suburbanites… This all may sound great, but the election of Steele raises a couple of questions that the Republican Party must answer for itself. First, what exactly does Steele plan to bring to African-Americans, Hispanics and others on these corners, in these boardrooms, and suburbs? Second, what was behind the selection of an African-American to bring the message?… The problem is that Steele and his Republican supporters see this as an ‘image problem’ and not a problem of direction or a lack of substantive and inclusive policy content. They cannot ‘market’ or sell their way out of this mess.” 

With his comments, Walters validated what I wrote in 2009.

Steele is now on his “I’m shocked, angry, appalled and offended tour”.  In an interview with the chairman of the American Conservative Union Matt Schlapp, Schlapp acknowledged Walters’ statement as “unfortunate words”. Yet in the same interview, Schlapp told Steele, “You have not been very graceful to the Republicans and conservatives in this room for a very long time…” Steele replied, “I’ve spent 41 years in this party. Forty-one…I have taken crap you have no idea about, and I have carried this baggage. And for him to stand on that stage and denigrate my service to this party, and for you as a friend to sit there and go, ‘Well, you have been critical of this party.’ There is only one word I can say, and I can’t say it on this air.”

The problem with the outrage expressed by Steele and many of his cohorts is that it can’t be genuine. They are smart people. How can they be shocked by the obvious? How can Steele complain when not only did he willingly accept the position in 2009; he campaigned for it? He’s a shrewd and astute politician. He had to clearly understand the role race played in the party official’s political calculations and the conditions under which he was allowed to obtain that position.

Conventional wisdom after the election of President Obama was that the Republican Party’s survival depended upon its inclusion of minorities. Party officials talked ad nauseam about “outreach”. This is no longer their reality. With the election of Trump, that theory has been thrown out of the window and Republicans are almost exclusively targeting their core base of White voters; men and women, educated and uneducated with White nationalist xenophobic uber-hyperbolic coded rhetoric.

The first thing Steele should have addressed was the patronizing racist tone and nature of Schlapp’s verbal slap at him. For Schlapp to say, “You have not been very graceful to the Republicans…” was his way of saying, “Your 41 years of service be dammed. Boy, you have forgotten your place.  You think you know how to play the game; but you have obviously forgotten how the game is played.”

Michael Steele expects people to believe that his election as the first African American chairman of the RNC three months after the first African American is elected president was a coincidence? Come on man! Earth to Steele, earth to Steele; come in Steele. You cannot compromise for the sake of political expediency on the front end and try to claim the moral high ground on the backend.  Let’s just call a spade a spade.

There is also history behind this play.  We have read this script before. Just Greek soldiershid in a large wooden horse to invade the independent city of Troy, political parties sometimes use people as their Trojan horses. In 2004 the Republican Party paid Maryland resident Alan Keyes to move to Chicago to run for the US Senate against Illinois State Senator Barack Obama.  As it was stated in the Chicago Tribune, the Republicans were desperate, “We need a name, we need a name…” and they “select(ed) Alan Keyes…to embark on the party’s ‘Mission Impossible’– ‘There’s no doubt that [Keyes’ selection] was an embarrassment,’ said Jim Edgar… respected GOP leader.” We also witnessed this in 2002, when according to The New York Times, Denise Majette, “a former (GA) state judge supported by pro-Israel groups…” was bankrolled by outside interests to upset five-term pro-Palestinian incumbent Representative Cynthia McKinney (D-GA).  We can go as far back as 1958 when a Harlem city councilman Earl Brown was selected to run against Representative Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.

When Steele accepted his position as RNC Chairman he stated, “It’s time for something completely different … we are going to say to friend and foe alike, we want you to be a part of us, work with us … we’re about winning elections….”  The problem is that all Steele offered was the same tired rhetoric that his predecessors and successors have offered the African American community. Steele never championed one substantive policy idea for people of color to consider. There was nothing different at all; it was the same old Republican wine in a new bottle.  Steele was at least clear on one thing, stating, “..we’re about winning elections”.

It was never about a substantive change in policy. It was always about image. That’s why when RNC chair candidate John “Chip” Saltsman distributed a CD with the song entitled “Barack the Magic Negro,” instead of expressing outrage at Saltsman’s vile, racist and sophomoric attempt at parody, Steele’s response was, “Chip knows better … You’ve got to be cautious, you’ve got to be smart, you’ve got to be appropriate. And, unfortunately, in this instance Chip was none of those things.” Where was the moral outrage then?

When conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh said, “I’ve been listening to Barack Obama for a year and a half. I know what his politics are. I know what his plans are, as he has stated them. I don’t want them to succeed … I hope he fails.” Steele again gave a very weak and safe response by stating, “Rush will say what Rush has to say, we will do what we have to do as a party.”

Steele and the Republicans often portray Black voters as unwitting dupes of the Democratic Party. Neither Steele nor his party ever acknowledge the thoughtful and practical reasons that overwhelming majorities of Black voters reject the Republican Party…their tolerance of and reliance on racism and racist rhetoric.

This is not a hit piece on Michael Steele.  I recently commended him for the stances he has taken on MSNBC regarding his opposition to a number of Trump administration policies. As analysts and commentators, we must strive to be academically accurate, intellectually honest and consistent with our analysis and commentary…otherwise, we would all be listening to Fox News.

On this issue of Walters stating “We elected Mike Steele to be the RNC chair because he’s a black guy…” it is true. Stop with the fake righteous indignation and the “I’m shocked, angry, appalled and offended” tour. In this instance you are “playing the race card” and you should stop because it makes it that much more difficult for those with legitimate issues to get airtime and redress.


Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/Host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues with Leon,” on SiriusXM Satellite radio channel 126. Author of Politics Another Perspective. Go to www.wilmerleon.com or email: [email protected]. www.twitter.com/drwleon and Dr. Leon’s Prescription at Facebook.com       

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