If Republicans had not so thoroughly screwed things up over the last eight years, it would be tempting to be a little sympathetic to their current predicament.
It is not a stretch to say that the GOP appears to be in total collapse. Exhibit A is Michael Steele, the new chairman of the Republican National Committee. Steele has been saying and doing increasingly bizarre things nearly every day since he was elected last month. With each episode, he seems more like some kind of disoriented drunk not in full command of his faculties. Maybe it's the enormity of the task at hand or maybe it's too much cable talk television, but the chairman has clearly come unhinged.
Steele, who has pledged to bring a hip-hop sensibility to his outreach efforts, told Lisa DePaulo in an GQ interview that he liked to listen to old-school hip-hop like "P. Diddy," who, of course, has been just Diddy for a minute, now. "The P was getting between me and my fans," Diddy announced in 2005.
This is what happens when a 51-year-old pretends that what he has to offer is youthful enthusiasm. Still, he gets a break from me on this -- who could keep up the stages and phases of the Puff Daddy to Diddy evolution?
But, if you're going to flub the Diddy ID question, there is no excuse -- none -- for referring to the Rat Pack as the Pack Rats. "I love the Pack Rats from the 1950s -- Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, those guys," Steele says in the same interview in which he outed himself as pro-choice. This is unforgivable and he should apologize. To somebody, anybody; maybe even to Rush Limbaugh again.
Steele is now famous for having apologized for describing Limbaugh as an "ugly" and "incendiary" entertainer. This has led to calls for his resignation from some in the party. There is now a threat that he would face a vote of no-confidence if Republicans do not win the special election in New York on March 31 to fill Kirsten Gillibrand's congressional seat.
Gillibrand, who was appointed to fill Hillary Clinton's senate seat, is a Democrat, but the GOP enjoys about a 70,000-vote advantage on the registration rolls in her district. This election is Steele's first big test as chairman and he declared it a top priority, saying that it carries "serious symbolic importance" for the party.
The problem is that the party is imploding. Already there are betting pools on how long it will take for him to apologize for his GQ remarks and on how long before he is out of the job altogether. This was clearly base-alienation week for Steele.
He told Lisa DePaulo of GQ that, in his view, a woman faced with an unwanted pregnancy should be left alone to make her own decisions: "Yeah. I mean, again, I think that's an individual choice."
Steele's sound and solid reasoning would be unremarkable coming from almost any other American. But coming from the head of a party that in modern times has had at its very core a strident opposition to abortion, it is a heresy and will be received as such. Steele will be hounded from his job. It is hard to envision any explanation that would save him from the wrath of the extreme right. That excruciating noise you hear is Republican heads exploding all over the country in outrage. The evangelical, anti-abortion wing of the GOP is the most loyal voting bloc in the party and Steele has no hope of ever getting them back, no matter how much he claims that he was misquoted, that his comments were misconstrued, and no matter how much he apologizes.
Why? Because that's not all he said to offend them. He also told DePaulo, sensibly, that he did not think being gay was a choice. He compared gayness to blackness: "Oh, no. I don't think I've ever really subscribed to that view, that you can turn it on and off like a water tap. Um, you know, I think that there's a whole lot that goes into the makeup of an individual that, uh, you just can't simply say, oh, like, 'Tomorrow morning I'm gonna stop being gay.' It's like saying, 'Tomorrow morning I'm gonna stop being black.'"
Is there anything he will not say?
Mediocrity has multiple vintages and Steele represents the special kind that does not recognize itself. He never understood that his place in the spotlight was the unfortunate result of a dastardly collusion between bad luck and poor timing. Instead of going away quietly and working to compensate for his weaknesses, Steele walked into the trap, talking and talking and talking. It will be tempting to feel bad for him when he gets ousted, but then again, he talked himself right into this one.