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RNC Chairman Michael Steele on cap and trade strategy, and how to keep Democrats from meddling in GOP primaries in 2012

Wednesday, July 1, 2009
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HH: We begin the show today with the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele. Always a pleasure, Mr. Steele, welcome back.

MS: Hey, Mr. Hewitt, it’s great to be with you. I hope you’re well.

HH: I’m great. I hope you enjoy your 4th of July. But I’ve got to ask, when you signed up for this job, I know you weren’t counting on Senator Ensign and Governor Sanford, and today Norm Coleman concedes to Al Franken. We’ve had better runs here, Michael Steele.

MS: Well, we have had better runs, but you know, there’s a process that you have to deal with, and it’s called cleansing. I think this is all part of the cleansing that our party’s going through. You know, it hurts my heart to see a Norm Coleman lose to an Al Franken, for goodness sake. But you know, again, it’s part of the cleansing that we go through. And certainly, whether it’s Ensign or Sanford or anyone else, these things are I think part of sort of reorganized and refocused on the mission at hand. And the mission for me, as it is for you, every single day is to remind voters of what Ronald Reagan knew, and what you and I know about this great country, that we are the last, best hope on Earth.

HH: Now Chairman Steele, a lot of people would love to see Norm Coleman helping us out at the national level.

MS: Yeah.

HH: He’s so well-respected on foreign affairs. Any job for him? Any role for him at the RNC?

MS: I’ll have to talk to the Senator and see what he wants to do next, but however I can help him out, I will be there to help him out.

HH: Now let’s also talk about cap and trade. Do you think the Republicans can stop that in the Senate?

MS: I think we can, and I’ll tell you why. Because unlike the House, the Senate blue dogs are much more exposed here. Look, Nancy Pelosi gave them all a pass to vote against the bill in the House, and they did, so they could preserve their race for next year. Not so much in the Senate. You need those votes. Every vote counts in the Senate, and those guys are going to be exposed there. And I think between the explanation of what this really means, the cap and tax aspect of this, the impact that it’s going to have on households, on businesses across this country, those guys aren’t going to be able to sell that back at home. And I think that this thing goes to the Senate, and it dies the appropriate death. It is bad public policy, it is bad fiscal policy, and it’s one that we’re going to stand our ground and fight as hard and as long as we can.

HH: Now a couple of Republicans I was hoping would run for Senate, Mike Castle in Delaware, Mark Kirk in Illinois, both voted for cap and tax and tax and tax. And I think they hurt themselves. Now I’ll still work for them, because they’re much, much better than the alternative. But do you think they hurt themselves?

MS: You know, that’s a very good question, Hugh. I’m not sure exactly how it translates for those two jurisdictions. With Castle in New Jersey, I’m not sure…

HH: Delaware. Castle in Delaware.

MS: Excuse me, in Delaware. I’ve got New Jersey on the brain for this fall. I’m not sure of what it means, yet. And so I’ve got to talk to some folks on the ground to see if he was in some kind of trouble that way, or what. I don’t know. It doesn’t make sense to me, because the onerous nature of this bill is such that you have to be against it. So I’ll have to see and find out from the Congressmen himself, or from both of them, quite frankly, as they prepare for potential Senate runs, what they saw that I didn’t see, that works to their benefit on that bill in their states.

HH: Now Chairman Steele, I want to turn and look ahead to early 2012. Obviously, it’s three years away, it’s a long way away. But a lot of my listeners and I am worried the Democrats will flood Republican caucuses in Iowa and the Republican primary in New Hampshire, or any other early primary in which we do not restrict the vote to Republicans. What are you going to do to prevent strategic chicanery of the sort that you and I both know MoveOn.org and Code Pink and the rest of them are very capable of doing?

MS: Well, you know, I think you raise a very important and frightening concern here, and that is the Democrats have spent the last six to eight years building in place an infrastructure to allow them to basically hijack elections at their whim. They started by focusing on targeting secretary of state races around the country. They’ve got a majority of those. And now when you have an ACORN situation flare up, what do you have, the secretary of state going well, there’s no problem here. I don’t understand why everybody’s all upset. Well, yeah, you’re part of a growing process that basically land locks these elections in such a way that they basically walk out of the election with the votes that they need. And the activity by groups like ACORN goes unnoticed. What I’ve started to do is focus our counsel, focus our legal opportunities around the country on exactly those behaviors, and we’re putting in place a strategy now to be competitive, shall we say, when it comes to protecting the rights of voters out there, and the process itself, protecting our candidates so we don’t have more Norm Coleman situations where votes are counted one way in one part of the state, and counted another way in another part, or they have activities by groups like an ACORN, or individuals like George Soros through their funding, to help them augment the taking of these elections.

HH: Well, that’s the fraudulent part, but I’m not talking about necessarily fraudulent. I’m just talking about, they do the Operation Chaos in reverse like Rush organized, and they flood our primaries legally with Democrats in the Iowa caucuses, who can switch on that day, or in New Hampshire. All the liberal Democrats become independents, or they just cross over and they can vote in the Republican side.

MS: I get what you’re saying, yeah.

HH: What are we going to do?

MS: Well look, you know, turn about is fair play in those states, for example. We’ve never been organized that way, quite frankly, Hugh. I mean, short of Rush putting out a call to engage the enemy, if you will, we have not done that. We have not done the kind of guerrilla campaigning that the Democrats have done, and have used, in the past. You know, in my district, in Maryland, for example, they would flood our state with all of these posters and billboards and placards about how if you elect a Republican, there…you know, church burnings and cross burnings will begin anew. I mean, it’s crazy crap, but the party never pushed back. Well, you’ve got a different kind of chairman in place right now, one who knows how the game is played, and certainly one who’s not afraid to go toe to toe with those tactics, to point them out, and to be prepared to deal with them.

HH: Well, what about closing primaries?

MS: So yeah, we want to engage on the ground as effectively as our opponents. But we also, to the extent that certain changes can be made before we get to that point, we want to fight to shut down those efforts to open up these primaries to that kind of craziness as soon as possible.

HH: But what about, you know, bringing up some closed primaries to compete with Iowa and New Hampshire, say you know, we’re only going to allow you to vote at the same…so that they don’t have the disproportioned impact that they have right now?

MS: Well, we’re looking, we’ve started the review of the 2012 primary process last week. We’re going to have a first set of hearings at our summer meeting in July. And we’re beginning to look right now at all the critical steps that we need to take to protect our primaries, to be competitive, and to allow for a process in which, again, the vote is not hijacked by the Democrats, and you know, as some Republicans feel we get a candidate that we don’t want or deserve or whatever. We want a process that we control, that we have the ultimate say in the outcome in, and not be beholden to the Democrats front-loading with…

HH: Well, who’s going to…how’s that going to work, Chairman Steele? Who’s on that committee? When do they report? Who decides?

MS: Well, that committee, again, was formed largely before I became chairman by two members from each of the regions of the country. Then I made the completing selections, six members who are, excuse me, nine members who are non-RNC members…

HH: Hey, my phone didn’t ring, Michael?

MS: (laughing)

HH: Did I not check my messages?

MS: Look, I need you where you are…

HH: Oh, I can do both.

MS: You can do both?

HH: Yeah, I’m waiting here. That is my committee. I’ve got to be on that, because I’m serious as death on this stuff. They’re going to steal this from us.

MS: Well, let me put it to you this way. When we have our hearing from the public, I’ll make sure you know about it and you come out and get on the record.

HH: I want a vote. I don’t want to be a witness. I’ve been a witness for years. I want a vote, Michael Steele. Count every vote! Count Hugh’s vote!

MS: I hear you, Hugh. I hear you.

HH: You know, you and Pawlenty do the same thing to me. You say you hear me, but I’m serious about this stuff. Is this going to get changed, Michael Steele? Are we going to protect our primaries?

MS: Yes, that’s the goal. Absolutely that’s the goal.

HH: And then why go to these nameless people that nobody knows? Why not go get some Republicans who actually have some swing and some juice to bring attention to the party?

MS: Well, I’d like to think that the people I got on the committee have some swing and some juise.

HH: Come one, name anyone.

MS: They’re former secretaries of states, they’re people who have actually been in the, who’ve had to deal with this issue…

HH: I’m falling asleep, Michael.

MS: …up close and personal.

HH: You know, former secretaries of state, except for Ken Blackwell, I’m falling asleep here.

MS: Well, no. Ken Blackwell wasn’t the only Republican secretary of state that we’ve had who have had to deal with these types of issues.

HH: I’m telling my audience right now, anyone every heard of Republicans…I mean, we’ve got to juice this…we’ve got to protect our primaries.

MS: We do have to…and look, Hugh, I do understand what you’re saying. And I, more than anyone else coming out of the background that I’ve had in dealing with Democrats, and dealing with how they’ve run campaigns…

HH: You bet.

MS: …and ruined campaigns, I get it. The bottom line is we’ve got some good people, both inside and outside the RNC, who have begun the process of looking at this. And this is the one area where I’ll say this, that there may be an opportunity here for us to do something unprecedented. The unprecedented step has already been taken, that the RNC is even allowing this process to happen, because it’s the first time it’s ever been allowed.

HH: That’s very good news, but I’m still waiting for that phone to ring. Michael Steele, always a pleasure. Listen for him on Bill Bennett’s program, always a pleasure to talk to the chairman, Chairman Michael Steele. But I’ve got…Duane’ll give you my phone number, Michael. I’ll wait for that call.

End of interview.

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