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Michael Steele on his bid to become GOP Chair

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

HH: Let’s go now to Michael Steele, former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, often a guest host here on the Hugh Hewitt Show, and announced candidate for the RNC chairmanship. Michael, Happy Thanksgiving evening to you.

MS: Happy Thanksgiving to you, Hugh. How’s it going, man?

HH: Good, although it’s a grim day when international terrorism raises its head this way, and we’ll come back to that. But Michael Steele, since you’re running for RNC, I want to start with the obvious question. Why did we lose in ’06 and ’08?

MS: We lost in ’06 and ’08 primarily because we forgot who we were. We started acting and talking like Democrats. Look, when you’re a Democrat lite in this environment, you lose. Instead of standing on the principles that we expressed in the Contract With America starting in ’94. We started spending money, growing the size of government, behaving poorly, and the people lost faith in our service. And they said look, we can do better with the other guys if this is how you’re going to perform. So what I think we have to do now is just basically check ourselves, recognize who we are, and look, we are the conservative party of this country. Let’s start acting like it. And we don’t need to run around and start, you know, growing the size of stuff that we shouldn’t be growing the size of. We don’t have any business doing bailouts. I mean, come on, how much are we spending now? I mean, I can’t believe this administration. They’ve lost their minds with some of the stuff that they’re putting on the table right now. And the reality of it is, you know, you, me and the grass roots of this party, we get the joke, folks. And the joke is on us if we don’t turn ourselves around and start moving forward. So that’s what’s got me fired up to run for chairman, and to speak truth to power and to recognize that we have something to offer this country, and we better start offering it, because what Obama is going to spend for us, nor right now, but two years from now, is something we, I don’t think, we’re at a price we want to pay.

HH: Michael Steele, how great is the technology gap between the RNC and the DNC? And how can it be closed? And who would you ask to oversee this part of the operation at the RNC if you are in fact elected chairman?

MS: The technology gap is huge. I mean, we sat back in 2004 and watched as Howard Dean basically took to the field in fundraising. Obama comes in four years later and redefines the landscape. What do we do? Nothing. What have we done? Nothing. So you know, where we start is by tapping into the talent that’s out there, and we’ve got a lot of it within our own party, not just the bloggers, but a lot of the technology guys who are doing some pretty innovative things. If you want to get a sense of how I think we can begin to touch people technologically, go to my website that we’ve put up for this chairman’s race. It’s, and you’ll see the interactive nature of it, the responsive nature of it, how you can be involved through texting, through direct communications, all those things that touch voters and make them feel like they’re a part of something, we will do, certainly if I’m chairman, we must do if we want to remain competitive.

HH: why did the youth and Latino votes break decisively towards Obama this year, Michael Steele?

MS: Because we had nothing to offer them. We had nothing to say to them. We didn’t speak to that youthful entrepreneurial spirit that I know exists in the black community and the Hispanic community. We had virtually no soundbytes, if you will, that they could chew on throughout the course of this campaign that they could say you know what, these guys are saying something that I can identify with. They’re saying something that speaks to my values, my concerns, my community. Case and point, nobody seemed to estimate or take into account the fact that on Proposition 8, African-Americans and Hispanics would have something to say. They didn’t even poll them. So everyone’s surprised when they find out that the reason that Proposition 8 in California, and that’s the gay marriage bill passed, the reason is Blacks and Hispanics. They brought a value vote to the table that was worth noting. We had nothing to say to them to speak on these issues. So my thinking is look, as we go forward, you’ve got to engage all sectors of the economy, all sectors of the community, to make sure that we’re resonating, and we’re not just talking to 65 and older, we’re not just talking to the small business owners, but we’re talking to a cross-section of America because we are a changed country. Obama figured it out, he trumped Hillary with it, he trumped McCain with it, and I won’t let him trump our party. I’m just sitting here talking with some friends about the fact that, you know, Obama’s running around acting like he’s Lincoln. Well I’ll be doggoned if he’s going to walk away and wrap himself in Abraham Lincoln when he’s talking about redistribution of wealth, more government over individual entrepreneurialism and enterprise. That’s just not the way we should do this.

HH: Now Michael Steele, there are three big caucuses in the GOP – the national security conservatives, the economic growth conservatives, and the traditional social issues conservatives. Which one gets the priority? Which ideas matter the most to you?

MS: Well you know, this sounds like a cheeky answer, but in a real sense, they all do because the economic issue is certainly front and center, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that as we’ve seen international events unfold in the last few weeks, and especially in this past week, that we’ve got to be mindful that there are things that we must be aware of and must stay tuned to on an international level. The social conservatives aspect, forgive me, I’m at a little restaurant with my son tonight, so you’ll hear a little extra noise in the background here.

HH: I can hear that, that’s okay, that’s family values.

MS: (laughing) It’s somebody’s birthday.

HH: I’ll bet you it must be Chuck E. Cheese’s that you’re at or something like that.

MS: Oh, my goodness. But anyway, the social agenda is still in play. Look what happened in California. So for us to start compartmentalizing and fragmenting our own party is a win for the Democrats. That’s what they want us to do. They want to…go ahead.

HH: Now Michael, I’m curious about where you get your ideas from. Which books do you read? Which bloggers do you read? How do you get your information?

MS: I get my information, you know what, I read a lot of the Daily Kos, I read a lot of liberal blogs, I read Red State. I’m a big fan of Red State. Politico, then I get real serious and I get my National Review and the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times as much as it causes me to gag, and there’s of course the Washington Times in D.C. So I read a cross-section of publications because I think it’s important not only to know what we’re thinking and saying amongst our own, but most especially what others are saying and thinking about us, and how they’re positioning themselves, and what tweaks particular interests and what doesn’t. Case and point, right now, the Obama folks are doing this through their appointments by trying to position themselves as this sort of moderate, centrist, almost center-right administration. Well, you and I know better than that. Come on, we’re not stupid. Neither is their left base, who are right now apoplectic with these choices. As I said to Bob Beckel on Fox one night, I said well Bob, I absolutely enjoy these choices, these picks that he’s making, and he said that’s what concerns me. So I know it tweaks them, and so I look for where do we, where can we find advantage? Where can we find opportunities as a party to draw those clear lines of distinction between the liberal agenda and the conservative agenda that I think America really still is a conservative, center-right nation.

HH: Now Michael, I know you’re busy, I’ve got time for one more question with you…

MS: Sure, buddy.

HH: …which is the Iowa Caucus, the New Hampshire primary. These things are broken, in my view, and Iowa’s subject to being captured by the left in four years, because they won’t have a primary. If you’re the RNC chairman, will you oversee an overhaul of our presidential nominating process?

MS: Yeah, I think we need to. I think we need to look very clearly at that. Lord knows I do not want to spend another two year presidential primary cycle. That was an absolute nightmare. But I think we also don’t need all the crazy leapfrogging and one-upmanship that we see going on in both parties with respect to these primaries. So I’d like to see us work cooperatively with the Democrats to come up with a system that is level, that is fair, and that is appropriate so that the voters stay engaged and not, you know, midway through, looking to turn the channel, so to speak, and move onto something else. So yeah, I think it’s something we’re certainly going to look at. I know that the RNC’s got, they passed legislation, if you will, I think at the summer convention, that would call for a commission to look a little bit more closely at how they do that. We’ll certainly want to see what they come up with, and begin the process well in advance of the next election, so lay down a common sense approach to nominating a president.

HH: Michael Steele, Happy Thanksgiving to you, enjoy your son’s birthday party, and we’ll be back talking with you again, hopefully before the RNC elections take place.

End of interview.

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