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Steele: Not as strong as he used to be

While it’s unlikely many students will be shuffling into College Park City Hall today to cast their votes in the city council election, it is likely that many Americans will be voting in several off-year elections, including two close gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey and a congressional election in New York. A year after the election of President Barack Obama, many are looking to these races as a compass for how the country views his young presidency. And campaigning with the Republican challengers in each race is a face familiar to many Marylanders: Michael Steele.

Steele was the state’s lieutenant governor when many of us were in high school, and since January he has served as the first black chairman of the Republican National Committee. While a significant accomplishment for the black community, his tenure in the position has been close to absurd. He has embarked on a rebranding campaign to broaden the GOP’s appeal to younger voters and in the process has turned himself into a strange caricature.

In early March he got into a scuffle with conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh over who the leader of the Republican Party really was and ended up apologizing to Limbaugh for calling him an “entertainer.” A Republican calling the king of talk radio’s show “ugly” apparently will not stand. In July, Steele said he would reach out to black voters by offering them fried chicken and potato salad.

In an apparent attempt to make the Republican Party more connected to a younger generation, Steele has become a slang connoisseur. He referred to the economic recovery package as just “bling bling,” and on the RNC’s website Steele’s blog was even originally titled “What Up.”
Good question: What exactly is up with Michael Steele? What happened to this man?

If Steele wants to attract blacks and young people to a party that, according to an April Washington Post-ABC News poll, only 21 percent of Americans identify with, he should be himself. The beauty of former Gov. Bob Ehrlich’s tenure was that he and Steele were moderate Republicans — a rarity in the George W. Bush era and even more so today, as angry conservatives take to the streets in colonial garb. They didn’t make outlandish comments about Democrats being traitors or threaten to secede from the union if they didn’t get their way. They worked in a primarily Democratic state and got things done by leaving extremism at the door. That’s the attitude Steele would have been wise to bring to the Republican Party. Instead, he’s turned himself into a caricature of an old guy in a suit speaking in outdated slang. Issues such as climate change and gay rights, which are primarily student causes, would attract many more moderates and young people to a party that already supports economic conservatism.

While the Republicans may very well win in some of the contests today, the victories are not a reflection of Steele but of local opinions. The candidates will be the winners, not Steele’s haphazard rebranding campaign. Although Steele’s attempts to rebrand the GOP through a cheery sense of humor and slang have certainly been attention getters, in the end the only real joke has been Steele himself.

Justin Snow is a junior history major. He can be reached at snow@umdbk.com.

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