In the wake of Republican successes in last week’s election, the party’s attention has turned to the question of whether the often-embattled Michael Steele is the best person to lead the Republican National Committee going into the 2012 campaign.
During the last two years, Steele has come under fire for repeated gaffes and financial irregularities, and official GOP fundraising was lackluster under his direction compared to the massive expenditures by outside organizations.
On Friday morning, former Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis, who ran for the post two years ago, became the first declared challenger to Steele’s leadership.
“It was not an easy decision for me to seek the post,” Anuzis wrote at his blog. “As someone who believes in loyalty, my natural instinct would be to sit this out. But the simple fact is that the overriding challenge we face is winning back the Presidency in 2012 and we will not accomplish that objective unless there is dramatic change in the way the RNC does business.”
Earlier this week, the New York Times noted that senior party officials have been “maneuvering to put pressure” on Steele not to seek reelection — or failing that, to encourage other candidates to run against him. Among those leading the effort is a nephew of Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, the outgoing chair of the Republican Governors Association.
The Washington Post reported on Friday that “a flurry of public calls from leading Republicans this week for new leadership at the RNC and moves by party insiders to build a coalition aimed at disposing of Steele could be the opening volleys of a nasty political fight. In one corner: the GOP’s top-ranking African American. In the other: a Republican establishment apparently determined to remove him from office.”
Steele, in turn, has fired back, acknowledging to reporters that “Everybody has a learning curve, and clearly, I had mine,” but also charging that his critics “don’t want me in this job, to put it rather bluntly.”
According to the Post, however, “Many in the party believe his candidacy is weak. If he is unable to win outright on the first ballot, he will likely lose supporters quickly and be forced to bow out.”
Anuzis is not the only potential challenger. According to the Post’s Chris Cilizza, “there are at least four other people making calls to RNC members to test the waters for a bid.”
“While it’s not clear whether any — or all — of those candidates will run,” Cilizza comments, “many people are looking at next week’s Republican Governors Association gathering in San Diego as a time when people either need to be in or out. There is significant concern among the anti-Steele forces that a crowded field could splinter the vote in enough pieces to allow him to be reelected.”