GOP Chairman Michael Steele thinks Republicans have "screwed up" for the most part in the years since Ronald Reagan was president. And, he adds in an interview on the heels of his new book's release, Republicans won't win back the House in fall elections and might not be ready to lead even if they do.
That forecast of failure sparked a pushback Tuesday at the GOP's own National Republican Congressional Committee, whose aim is to elect Republicans, and delight at its counterpart, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Asked Monday by talk-show host Sean Hannity if Republicans can regain the House in November, Steele said, "Not this year." He added: "I don't know yet, because I don't know all the candidates yet. We still have some vacancies that need to get filled, but then the question we need to ask ourselves is, if we do that, are we ready?"
In answer to his own question, Steele said: "I don't know. And that's what I'm assessing and evaluating right now. Those candidates who are looking to run have to be anchored in these principles ... because if they don't, then they'll get to Washington, and they'll start drinking that Potomac River water, and they'll get drunk with power and throw the steps out the window."
NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said in response to Steele's comments that recapturing the majority remains a GOP goal. "Independent political analysts and even liberal columnists have stated that Republicans have a very real shot at taking back the majority in 2010," he said in a statement. "Make no mistake about it, we are playing to win."
The DCCC pointed to Steele's comments as further evidence of a civil war within the GOP and party disarray.
"If the NRCC hasn't convinced the Republican National Committee chairman they can win, it's no wonder that Tea Party activists, Republican small donors and Republican House members are not confident and have failed to invest in the NRCC," said DCCC spokeswoman Jennifer Crider.
Steele's new book, "Right Now: A 12-Step Program for Defeating the Obama Agenda," released Monday by Regnery Publishing, offers his blueprint for the party's resurgence. The first step for Republicans, he says, is admitting that they have compromised their principles in the past decade.
"We must support Republican officials who assert these principles," he writes. "When elected Republicans vote against Republican principles, the voters must withhold their support — withhold it vigorously and consistently."
Steele focuses much of the book on familiar GOP denunciations of President Barack Obama's overall policies ("a roadmap to failure"), the $787 billion stimulus bill ("a reckless, wasteful, pork-laden spending spree"), liberal views on manmade global warming ("A threat to life on Earth? Depends on whom you ask") and other issues.
To regain the public confidence, Steele says the GOP should, among other things, expose the "reign of error" inherent in liberal policies, contrast conservative and liberal principles, and highlight the damage caused by Obama's policies while explaining conservative solutions.
More surprising, the GOP chairman directly or indirectly criticizes:
- President George H.W. Bush for raising taxes two years after President Ronald Reagan left office, though Steele ignores the fact that Reagan raised taxes too.
- President George W. Bush for not vetoing spending bills during his first five years in office. He calls Bush and other Republicans "enablers for big government" and derides the Bush administration's Troubled Asset Relief Program as "a massive government slush fund."
- Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the party's 2008 presidential nominee, for backing censorship of political speech through the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. Steele says the GOP erred in allowing itself to be associated with "a national political speech code."
- Republican lawmakers in general, who allowed spending to rise from 2001 to 2004, went along with TARP and McCain-Feingold, and supported the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit.
"We must quickly learn our lessons, return to our principles and move on," Steele concludes.
One Republican who escapes Steele's intraparty criticism is former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, McCain's running mate. Then again, judging from the book's index, Palin is not mentioned at all in what the publisher calls Steele's "call to arms for grassroots America."