After watching Republican National Committee Michael Steele's performance on Good Morning America, it's clear that he hasn't learned his lesson. Of course, Steele believes that, as a black man, he is subject to increased scrutiny inside and outside the party, and the notion that he needs to a learn a lesson is a bit quaint, and quite possibly even racist. It's not. Here's what Steele doesn't seem to understand:
in suggesting that he might conjure up of a bill of rights or promises for Republicans to run on in 2010 (and by saying he'd consult with Newt Gingrich, of all up-and-coming party superstars), Steele is making the same mistake that underlies all of the problems he faces: he wants to represent, or remake, Brand Republican.
Two problems with this: One: he doesn't have the street cred inside or outside the party to do this. Two: it's not his job. It's never been the job of the Republican National Committee chairman. That position is uniquely unsuited to that job, in fact. Really, unless Steele were manifestly more interesting and charismatic than other Republican Party leaders, which he isn't, he has three main roles to play: one: he keeps the machinery going. He's a C.O.O., not a C.E.O. He makes sure the party's voter databases are ready. He tends to the party's internal preparations for 2012. He facilitates coordination between party branches. He makes the resources of the RNC are available as needed to candidates.
Two: he raises money. Three: he serves as a -- A -- public face of the party. In consultation with Republican elected officials, the party's message and agenda are set, and Steele executes this. Problem is, Steele doesn't want to be constrained by the fecklessness of his party's congressional leaders, which is perfectly understandable. But Steele is just not as good a communicator as he thinks he is. He comes off sounding, well, like he's trying to too hard. He's uneven. He is always having to explain himself after the fact. He confuses.
One of the biggest differences between now and 1994 is that in 1994, Republicans had a plausible leadership team in place that hadn't discredited themselves in the eyes of independents and party leaners. That's manifestly not the case today, as evidenced by the Tea Party movement, which derives it power as much from the failure of the party to lead as it does from dissatisfaction with Obama or the economy. Steele isn't helping matters. To borrow a wrestling metaphor, unless he can pop on his own -- no evidence at all that he can -- he needs to know his role, and his role isn't the role he's come up with.
Side note: Steele's right that the controversies over the RNC's spending practices are largely (though not entirely) irrelevant, except in the way they harden public opinion against Steele and are easy targets for his (many) enemies. Steele would be well-served to focus on the built-in competencies of the RNC, stop explaining himself and get back to work.