Michael Steele, Sarah Palin: Obama's 'Gifts' To GOP

Sarah Palin., Michael Steele

Sarah Palin and Michel Steele at a rally in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, Oct. 16, 2010. Jae C. Hong/AP Photo hide caption

itoggle caption Jae C. Hong/AP Photo

If President Obama were the world's most brilliant Machiavellian political strategist, he could not have created a better plan to trouble the sleep of Republican establishment leaders than the one they inadvertently came up with themselves when they gave Michael Steele and Sarah Palin high-profile roles.

With Steele's announcement Monday that he plans to run for re-election as Republican National Committee chair, Steele guarantees a distracting battle for that post.

And that nastiness will come just as his party was hoping to consolidate its gains coming off its big wins in the mid-term elections.

That Steele is even in the position to defend his chairmanship has much to do with Obama since Steele's election to be the first black GOP head was a reaction to Obama's election as the first black president.

After the president's 2008 election and Democratic gains in the House, many Republicans wanted to send the message that their party was open to racial and ethnic diversity.

Steele was chosen partly as a vessel for that message seen as so necessary in the age of Obama.

Now Steele refuses to go quietly after a controversial term as RNC chair in which he is accused of being too often off-message, of not wisely husbanding the organization's resources and of not raising enough money to boot.

While he no doubt has supporters, he has many opponents, most directly the growing cast of Republicans who have announced they hope to succeed him.

In much the same way that Steele is frustrating the plans of many senior Republicans to smoothly transition the RNC away from him, Sarah Palin, another reaction to Obama's 2008 success, continues to drive some top Republicans to distraction.

Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, chose Palin in part to appeal to those women voters who might have been looking for an alternative after Obama defeated Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary.

It was also meant to inject some excitement into the Republican ticket that say, Tom Ridge, the former Pennsylvania governor thought at the time to be a potential vp pick, wouldn't have.

But after the election-day defeat, Palin has grown to become a power center within the party.

Like Steele, she has tapped into the grass roots Tea Party movement and appears to be fighting her party's establishment with almost as much relish as she takes on Democrats.

And as the Republican Party prepares for the 2012 general election, she is clearly a force to be reckoned with. Besides being constantly mentioned as a presidential candidate, she clearly can energize some Republican voters behind candidates.

So party officials have to spend time and energy considering and responding to her next moves, as they must do with Steele. That comes at a cost; they can't expend more of their efforts against Obama and his fellow Democrats.

Which is why it's so ironic that Steele and Palin, who arose to national prominence partly as a reaction to Obama, are now frustrating so many Republicans in a way Obama wishes he could.

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