Michael Steele's Leadership Challenge

By Mickey Edwards

The exercise of leadership is seldom easy and often unpleasant.  But that's why they call it "leadership."  Since his election as the Republican Party's national chairman, Michael Steele has been doing a pretty good job of it, pushing for a greater outreach to minority communities, working to tap into, but not surrender to, the roiling anger emanating from the tea parties and talk shows; even doing what he can, without being impeached, to push back against the most outrageous examples of nasty nuttiness.  But now the nuttiness is in his own camp, put forth by his own appointees, and if he is to truly lead his party he has but one choice: fire them.

With the Democratic Party in disarray and swimming in unpopularity, the worst thing Republicans can do is to send a message that they're even worse. Yet that is exactly what two RNC dimwits, finance director Rob Bickhart and finance chairman Peter Terpeluk, are accused of doing, apparently unveiling a campaign to run against Democrats to "save the country from trending toward Socialism!" and labeling the President of the United States "the Joker" and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi "Cruella DeVille."

Both Bickhart and Terpeluk appear, at least from a distance, to be adults (Terpeluk has even been an ambassador) but appearances can be deceiving; whether they designed the campaign or merely signed off on it, they displayed the intellect and maturity of children, locked forever, perhaps, in a junior high school mentality. It is bad enough that the campaign they envisioned is nasty; it's also juvenile. Can they really believe serious people would have been willing to undertake such an endeavor even to oust people whose policies they oppose?

But that brings us back to Mike Steele. Steele claims he knew nothing of the proposed fundraising campaign, and there's no reason to doubt him (although there's certainly reason to believe he should have known). But the ball is now squarely in his court. Distancing himself from this nonsense is not sufficient. Even proving he knew nothing of it is not sufficient. Right now the only right course is to send these two clowns packing and, in the process, fire everybody else in the RNC's fundraising division who had anything to do with the ideas embodied in such a stupid campaign. Today, Steele can honestly claim to have brought a reasoned and honest approach to Republican political campaigning; if these idiots are still in place next week, that assessment will be brought into question.

Thumbnail image credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/03/michael-steeles-leadership-challenge/37062/