Down here in Maryland the hot political topic is comments that Lt. Gov. and Senate candidate Michael Steele made in an off the record conversation with reporters. Those comments -- to the effect that running as a Republican would cost him support in heavily Democratic Maryland, particularly among blacks, and that it would be a bad idea for President Bush to campaign for him -- were reported in a despicably dishonest WaPo column by Dana Milbank. Milbank made it sound as if Steele was embarrassed by the Republican Party and by President Bush, and included enough descriptive material in his column to enable readers to identify his source. The result has been to give State Democrats lots of talking points and they are having a field day in the local media. At the same time many Republicans are expressing their disappointment with Steele's "disloyalty." Steele has done himself no favor by making statements to the effect that he is good friends with Bush and considers him to be his "homeboy."
Here's a link to Steele's WBAL interview in which he tries to explain the situation.
Steele was only stating the obvious -- the Republicans run at a disadvantage in Maryland and that many black voters are die-hard Democrats. All through the race so far, Democrats have used every possible opportunity to attempt to portray Steele as a Bush hand puppet. Naturally Steele is responding by keeping a distance between himself and Bush and repeatedly proclaiming and demonstrating his independence from the White House and the Party leadership.
So what's the story? Democrats now have anti-Bush statements that they can use to tar the administration, and pro-Bush statements that they can use to smear Steele. That's it and that's all. Bad tactics, indiscretion, and a sleazy columnist have added up to a big bag of nothing.
Move along, folks. There's nothing to see here.
John Dickerson, writing in Slate argues that Steele's attempts to explain his remarks have just made things worse -- much worse.
Steele, who is the leading Republican for his party's nomination, committed a gaffe, according to Slate founding editor Michael Kinsley's classic definition: He accidentally said something true in public.Read it here.
Once outed, Steele produced a variety of responses, all of them bad. They have been so bad as to constitute a kind of minitutorial on what a candidate shouldn't do when caught telling a truth.
Of course, you have to take Slate with several shakers of salt. It is a Democrat rag and was commenting on Steele's remarks only as a way to trash Bush and the Republican leadership. My prediction is that this will blow over and might even benefit Steele somewhat with black voters.