The RNC Chairman talks to Mark Halperin in Anaheim about what Republicans have to do to close strong before 11/2, what he worries about, and why Bill Clinton is so smooth.
HALPERIN: Chairman Steele, one of your jobs is to try to figure out what the other side is doing. You’re supposed to evaluate. You’ve been through a lot of these. What do you think the Democratic Party — what do you think the White House strategy is for these next two weeks to try to cut their losses?
STEELE: I think the strategy is to pretend the last two years hasn’t happened. That all of the noise — as they would probably put it — from American people on health care and the government’s performance … with helping them create jobs — they’ll act like that didn’t happen. And, you know, the reality of it is the people have said very clearly what direction they want the country to go in and it’s clear that they haven’t listened. So, I think you’re going to see and have already begun to see, you know, obfuscation and distraction. Focusing on, you know, third party groups out there that are raising money. They’re doing the same thing on the left. I mean, it’s like all of the sudden their 527s get an exemption on the law that, you know, Republican 527s don’t get. Everybody’s playing by the same rules, it’s just they don’t like the way the outcome is shaping up.
HALPERIN: You’ve been coast to coast on this tour, you’ve been traveling a lot — some people are now saying that there’s going to be a big Republican year, but some of the California races, some of the East Coast races, maybe Democrats will be better. Is this going to be a national Republican sweep or is there going to be some areas like the coasts where Democrats you think will do better?
STEELE: I think that’s a good question. I think the struggle is still there for the East and the West Coast. We have, basically, as a party, nationally, abandoned them. I mean you look at the failure rate to elect Republicans even in good times in those areas. So, you know, we’re building back slowly. As I’ve said from the very beginning — this is a baby step. This is the first of many steps we’re taking as a national party. But the goal is to be in the neighborhoods — to be on the street. I mean, what good is a Republican Party hoisted up in Washington D.C. on 1st street? We needed to be in Compton. We needed to be in, you know, South Boston. And so the reality for us is to be in those places, to elevate our candidates and most especially their message of ownership, opportunity, empowerment and let the voters decide. And I have a lot of confidence, particularly given the leadership here in California on the gubernatorial side with Meg and Carly, candidates like Damon Dunn, Star Parker — that were going to do OK.
HALPERIN: You’ve been doing pretty well, things are going pretty well. You’re the chairman — you’re paid to worry. What are you worried about in the last two weeks that could go wrong to could keep you from having the kind of year a lot of people think you’re supposed to have?
STEELE: I think overestimation. A lot of, you know, “Oh gee, we’ve got this in the bag.” You know, “we can sit back and relax.” Every stop I make I tell our team this is not over. You’re ten points down. You’re 20 points down. You still have a lot of work to do. If the poll says you’re 30 up, it’s a lie. Let’s stay focused on the goal here, which is winning in November. And you’re going to have to make some hard decisions and take some hard steps to do that. As I put it to them, and you know, I’ll say here today — get out of your comfort zone. We cannot be a comfortable party. We have to be uncomfortable with ourselves in what we’re doing over the next two and half weeks to make sure we bring that victory home.
HALPERIN: You’ve been on the ballot yourself. You know what kind of candidate skills are required to win. You’re here today. President Clinton’s also in California — you’ve watched him this year. What kind of talent is he showing? What kind of skills does he have that you think your candidates would be wise to emulate?
STEELE: Well first off, the brother’s smooth. Clinton’s smooth. I mean there’s no doubt about it. That’s years of practicing smooth. I think what our candidates’ have is authentic. Not to say that Clinton isn’t. But I’m just saying that their style is going to be a little different from his — certainly different from mine. I’ve always approached any ballot I’ve been on — it’s just being honest with people, letting them see your vulnerabilities, letting them see your strengths. And that they can relate to and identify with when you start talking to them about those complicated issues of how you’re going to help lower taxes and raise academic standards and empower small businesses. And they can begin to trust and believe you. And that for a lot of us, Mark, has been a real journey for the GOP. A lot of people forget where we were a year ago. 22%. Time magazine had the elephant on the cover – “endangered species.” How do you like us now? Not so endangered. But still requires a lot of work, still requires a lot of effort and our candidates have been leading that charge. And thankfully we’ve had this organic movement of the Tea Party that has been a phenomenal source of, you know, reestablishing the party and helping it refocus on its core principles.
HALPERIN: Last question, how do you stay so good looking on a bus?
STEELE: A lot of ironing. A lot of ironing. We get a little bit of sleep here and there but I’m just, I’ll tell you man, I’m excited by people. I get out there and I feel this energy from the American people — whether there’s 20 people in the crowd or 200. It’s important, it’s exciting, and I love it and it’s where the party needs to be.