Some excerpts from an interview between the Review-Journal and Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.
Steele was in Las Vegas on Monday for a fund raising event for the Nevada Republican Party.
Below are questions and answers related to Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., and his scandals, Steele’s take on the tea party protestors and ugly imagery that has cropped up at rallies and an acknowledgement Republicans strayed from principles such as small government and limited spending.
Review-Journal: There have been a lot of complaints by excess in federal spending by the Democrats. But when Republicans were in the White House, the Senate, the House they were fiscally irresponsible. There have been Republicans who have said that. How can voters be convinced they would be any different if they were returned to power?
Michael Steele: We have to demonstrate that. We have to demonstrate it by the kinds of policies we articulate. I think you’ve seen it in the health care debate. Republicans have argued for a leaner budget, for smaller government for less bureaucracy, greater control by patients and doctors versus the federal government. Certainly, the spending, whether it is in the stimulus bill, Republicans virtually to a person stood in opposition to spending money in the middle of a recession that the American people don’t have. The party leadership certainly in the H and S have been trying to demonstrate in very public ways those bill introduced and defeated, I should say, by the majority. And their sincerity of having one, learned form our past mistakes with respect to government spending, growth of government, and two, their commitment to not making that mistake again and moving forward with strong fiscal policies that will empower and grow the economy and not burden it with further taxes and debt.
R-J: Was it in your book where you said "republicans lost touch with Americans" and "glaringly compromised our principles" Do you include Sen. John Ensign in that?
MS: I’m not including anyone. I’m talking about the party as a whole. It happened at the state level, it happened at the federal level, I am not getting into finger-pointing and calling and naming out individual Senators or Congressmen, that’s not what this is about. This is the party speaking about ourselves, talking about ourselves and how we look at these issues. And how these principles that have defined a generation still matter. We are much better off adhering to those principles and regaining the faith of the people than continuing down the path we were on in which we lost the faith of the people. So, at the end of the day, the final judgment of the performance of an individual elected official at all levels will be the people who elected them. That’s where it should be, not in the RNC, not in Washington, not anywhere except in the back yard of the very people who have sent that individual to the state capitol or to the nation’s capitol.
R-J: Are Sen. Ensign’s affair and the subsequent investigation into potential lobbying violations, are those a drag on the party and should Sen. Ensign resign?
MS: I don’t know about the party here in Nevada, I have not heard anything like that, I don’t think it is a drag …
R-J: His poll numbers have been ….
MS: But that’s his poll numbers it is affecting.
R-J: But you heard what Dean Heller said the other day, he talked about it having a negative affect on the Nevada delegation.
MS: That’s the Nevada delegation and they have to deal with that. As national chairman that’s not my role or my place to comment on that or weigh in on that. My job is to make sure that all Republicans who are incumbents get re-elected and all Democrats get unelected. It is a very simple charge and that’s how I look at it. Whether Harry Reid steps down now or in November, come next January my intent is that he doesn’t return to Washington. So this is not a complicated process for me. It is not made any more complicated by specific issues here in the state. Those are dealt with by the state delegation or individual members of the party here. When they get those things sorted out we go forward.
R-J: In terms of mistakes, whose mistakes, mistakes by people in elected office, whose mistakes were worse? Sen. Ensign’s or Sen. Reid’s?
MS: I don’t know. I’m not in a position to judge or put a value on those mistakes. And so, that’s again, up to the people here to decide and value those for themselves. I’m just waiting for a nominee to go, who will go against Sen. Reid this November and we’ll be ready to back that nominee and win.
R-J: Do you think having 9 or 10 potential Republicans go at it, is that too many?
MS: No, that’s the beauty of a primary process, y’all come. All those who want to run can, all those who have the ability to sustain a run will, and eventually the voters, the Republican voters, primary voters, will decide which of those remaining candidates they want to represent them in the general election.
(Steele returned to the topic a bit later — bjs)
MS: This is a good primary. There is no acrimony. There is no ugliness. Everyone is running their own race and folks are going to do well. The voters will decide which of those individuals, whether it boils down to two or whether all nine of them are still in at the end of the day, which one was the standard bearer they want for November.
R-J: Have the tea party protestors, or group, people, has that been good or bad for the Republican party.
MS: I think it has been good, very healthy for the party. They have re-ignited for us the ideals of our conservative principles, reminded us of how we strayed and why we shouldn’t in the future. So I think it has been very, very healthy. The one thing I try to emphasize when I meet with tea party leadership around the country is we are fighting the same fight, we are on the same side here. I’m not saying ‘join the Republican Party and you can only do this if you are a Republican.’ I’m saying ‘let’s go into these fall elections committed to having the candidate who is true to fiscal discipline and free markets and the like be the one who wins, not beat each other up so the other person takes it, Harry Reid or someone else.’
R-J: What do you make of some of the imagery that’s been at some of the tea party events? Confederate flags, racially charged caricatures of President Obama?
MS: Look you go through 100,000 people, you take a picture of one person and you extrapolate it to everybody in the crowd, that is just what the left and the media does. That’s not a reflection of the grandmother who got off her front porch or who came out of her kitchen to go to a town hall meeting to protest to what the government is doing to her on Medicare, Medicaid, is doing to her on her health care, the impact on her abilities to access that system in the future. It doesn’t reflect the fact that a wage earner, an hourly wage earner, took time off of their day to go to a town hall meeting to confront their congressman, their senator in Washington on health care or any other issue. So to, you know, turn something like that on its head and say that is a reflection of everybody, is an image of the tea party, is insulting.
R-J: But do you condemn that sort of imagery when it does crop up?
MS: Yeah, look, this is the beauty of this country. You get to express what you feel and what you think. And you may not like the sign I’m holding in my hand or the flag I’m waving, we understand that. But you still have the right to do it. It is not a reflection on you when I hold that sign or wave that flag. Nor is it necessarily a reflection on everyone around me. I think we need to be very, very careful there when you have people like Nancy Pelosi calling those very same people who weren’t carrying the signs and that they didn’t, that people weren’t focused on so intently, as un-American because they went to protest what government is trying to do to them. You want to make sure that people have access to leadership. And that access should be unfettered and leadership should not be afraid to confront and meet with and talk to the very people who sent them to office. But apparently that seems to have been the case this past summer. But guess what, this November the voters get the last laugh because they get to vote some people out of office.