RNC's Michael Steele Takes Victory Lap

Michal Steele

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. Cliff Owen/AP Photo hide caption

itoggle caption Cliff Owen/AP Photo

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele definitely sounds like a man who feels vindicated.

Coming off last week's highly successful midterm elections for Republicans, Steele clearly feels he has earned some bragging rights and intends to use them.

Speaking to NPR's Michel Martin on Tell Me More Monday, Steele claimed that much of the success seen last week and before can be traced to his RNC stewardship.

It's a view that runs contrary to much of what's been reported about the prevailing thinking within the Republican Party. Since he became chairman in early 2009, Steele has more often than not been described as more of the party's problem than solution.

Indeed, because of questions about his RNC leadership style, many Republicans, led by Bush political advisor Karl Rove and others created new channels to raise and spend money for their party and candidates.

But if the goal of the rest of the Republican establishment was to marginalize Steele, it didn't work, at least not in his own mind. He's laying claim to last week's GOP victories as much as anyone and giving Steele haters more to hate.

An excerpt from his conversation with Michel:

MICHEL: ... We've heard a lot about Sarah Palin and her role in supporting these candidates. But we haven't heard many people give you credit and in fact, there's been a lot of criticism publicly, despite the fact that the RNC raised as much money as it did.

For example, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, said on Election Night, that his group and other groups in the Republican Party had to "scramble around" to raise more money because the RNC wasn't doing enough. What is that about?"

STEELE: I think that's about the fact that they don't want me in this job, to put it rather bluntly. That's been a concerted effort since I got the job. But I pay no never mind to that. My mission as charged to me by the 168 individuals who voted for me is to go out and raise money.

I have won more elections of any chairman since 1938. In fact, none of my predecessors have been able to put together the kind of combination of wins and it's because we tried to make the party more grassroots oriented. Not top down but bottom up. We developed relationships with Tea Party activists and like-minded individuals out there and Democrats and independents out there to try to build a new governing coalition for our party.

Look, I see this as a team effort. I think the governor just misspoke, to put it politely.

What we have done is very steadily and very quietly built the ranks within the party, identified strong leadership that we can present to the people of their districts, or their cities or their states and have them run on their merits.

Steele also suggested, more boldly than any exit-poll data that I've seen would justify, that the Republican Party has become significantly more racially and ethnically diverse.

He pointed to the election of two black Republicans to the House and a black woman as Florida's lieutenant governor as evidence, not to mention an Indian American woman to the governorship in South Carolina and the first Latina governor in the U.S. (New Mexico.)

STEELE: The reality is, I think, it's a combination of forces coming together. Proaction by the party, grassroots organization by the party and the individual deciding this is an opportunity for me now and asking the question will the party stand me?

My answer to all of them was "yes." We had over 60 African Americans running for the U.S. Congress, 11 of whom were nominees in the general election. Two of whom got elected. That is a phenomenal turnaround from where we were.

Just think about it. Two short years ago we only had 36 black folks at the Republican National Convention. I mean, how sad it that?  And I stood on that floor and watched those individuals and said never again...

This is just the beginning. This is not your mama and daddy's GOP anymore. It can no longer be argued by some of our friends on the left, that it is a largely southern, regional, white male party.

It is not. Because when you look at what just grew out of the South, you know with Nikki Haley and Alan West and Tim Scott, you can see that this party is changing and it's about time. It's long overdue.

True, there was a diversity of Republican candidates unseen in the recent past. But the part of the electorate who voted for them were still largely your mama and daddy's GOP.

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