Parker column: GOP disorder: Purge or binge

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 20, 2009

It’s not yet clear how the one-armed midget demographic is shaping up, but everybody else seems to be bailing on the GOP.Begging the forgiveness of one-armed midgets, I’m merely quoting Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. In a Washington Times interview shortly after being elected head of the GOP, Steele met Howard Dean’s gays/guns/God challenge and raised him a jackpot of grief.
Steele was making the point that the GOP needed to “uptick our image with everyone, including one-armed midgets.”
That was February. This is now:
As state party chairmen gather this week in Maryland, a new Gallup analysis shows that since 2001, fewer people in all but one demographic (those who attend church weekly) identify themselves as Republican.
People moving away from the GOP include those who attend church nearly weekly or monthly, Midwesterners, Southerners, married people, moderates, college graduates and nongraduates.
The findings confirm growing disenchantment with a party that is viewed as belonging primarily to older white males, despite the GOP’s having selected a hip-hop-friendly African-American to lead them.
Whatever the thinking, it isn’t working.
The party is roiling between the purgers (good riddance to anyone who thinks outside the pup tent) and the bingers (we love everybody!). Within those two groups are subsets: the sane people who are not afraid of paradox or advanced degrees, and the “Billy Bobs” who think it’s terribly clever to pass a resolution insisting that the Democrats rename their organization the “Democrat Socialist Party.”
And then there’s Steele.
The running joke is that Republicans have “tragic” where Democrats have “magic.” The emerging consensus is that Steele, though he means well, has the wrong personality for the job.
“He’s goofy and light in heavy times,” as one insider put it.
Many are suddenly nostalgic for “whatshisname” ó the guy who ran the party before Steele, whose name no one can quite remember. Oh, yeah, Mike Duncan. At least he kept the trains running on time, they say. To which criticism Steele says, “Stuff it.”
One could rest one’s case at this juncture, but the list of complaints doesn’t stop at Steele’s shoot-from-the-lip style. Of equal concern are his handlers (about whom more anon) and the Republicans’ failure to win the recent New York special election.
On his speaking style, the only person who can’t wait to hear what Steele will say next is Joe “Bunker” Biden, who surely begins each morning with a prayer: “Please, God, let Michael Steele go on TV today.”
Or radio.
Case in point: Despite rigorous briefings on judges, Steele recently rambled off into the brambles while guest-hosting Bill Bennett’s radio show. Commenting on Obama’s plan to appoint judges who are, among other things, empathetic to how rulings affect everyday lives, Steele managed to invoke Miss California and beauty pageant judge/blogger Perez Hilton.
Let’s see: David Souter. Perez Hilton. Sure. We get that.
“What was so outstanding about Miss California, let’s do a little parallel,” said Steele. “The empathetic judge in this case, the judge of the beauty pageant, asked this woman a question and instead of taking her answer at face value, he was empathetic to a particular community and he thought her answer should be favorably disposed towards that particular community …”
If you get Steele’s drift, you may want to grab a flotation device.
Helping Steele in his self-demolition are power brothers Curt and Wes Anderson, media consultant and pollster, respectively. All one needs to know is that Curt, affectionately noted for chewing tobacco and taking cell-phone calls at intimate dinner parties, was the magician behind Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s perky performance following Obama’s February address to Congress.
Finally, winning cures all ills in politics, to borrow a Republican friend’s words. And Steele isn’t winning. “Right now we’re considered losers,” she said. “We get back in the game by winning.”
Insiders feel that the GOP should have won the New York special election to replace Kirsten E. Gillibrand, the Democrat who succeeded Hillary Clinton in the Senate. And internal polling showed that the contest, lost by just 700 votes, was winnable. Although Steele directed some money to New York, his critics say that it wasn’t spent strategically enough to draw out soft Republicans ó the GOP’s real target demographic.
Even the most empathetic judge perusing Steele’s record would be forced to wonder: What’s up with that?
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Kathleen Parker writes for the Washington Post. E-mail