A conservative activist’s racially charged comment about former Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele is symptomatic of “groupthink” and “a-holeishness” within the party, Steele said today.
At the Conservative Political Action Conference’s Ronald Reagan Dinner Friday night, Ian Walters, spokesman for the American Conservative Union, which runs the conference, said that in reaction to President Barack Obama’s election, the RNC “elected Mike Steele as chairman because he was a black guy. That was the wrong thing to do.” The comment drew gasps from the audience, according to several reporters who were present.
Steele, who was RNC chair from 2009 to 2011, first responded to the comment Friday night. “I wanted to talk to [ACU chair] Matt Schlapp first, but I think it’s painfully stupid what he said,” Steele, who was attending the conference and was just outside the room where Walters was speaking, told New York’s Observer. “If he feels that way I’d like him to come say that to my face. And then I’d like him to look at my record and see what I did. I can’t believe an official of CPAC would go onstage in front of an audience and say something like that. I’ve been a strong supporter of CPAC for many years and I thought they raised them better than that here.”
Later in the evening, Steele told MSNBC’s Joy Reid, “I was finishing up my radio program on Sirius XM and it came across my phone. Someone came running up to the table and said, ‘Have you seen this,’ right in the middle of the conversation I was having with one of our guests. And I looked down at my phone. … Of course I had one of those moments where you just go, ‘What the?’ So yeah, a little shocked, a little disappointed.”
He added, “Surprised that people still in the party feel this way and look at the contributions that anyone would make to the party through the prism of race. It’s unfortunate, it’s stupid, it’s immature.” But it is “endemic” of what’s going on in the nation and the parry now, he said. “We have allowed this element to have a voice, we have given countenance to it, we have given it the space to express itself,” he said. “There is no taking that back. You can’t deny that that has been freed up.”
Steele told Reid that Walters called him, apologized, and tried to explain, relating the comment back to Obama’s election. “I just said that’s not acceptable, it’s not enough,” Steele said.
Then today on his Sirius XM show, Steele & Ungar, Steele said of the comment, “It’s the groupthink that has emerged within the party that has now poisoned the national dialogue,” according to The Hill.
He continued, “That’s reflective of the stupidity, the ignorance, and the a-holeishness ... that exists inside the party.”
Schlapp also appeared on Steele’s program, CBS News reports, and said Walters’s words are “not where his heart is,” words similar to those Walters used in a tweet on the matter. Schlapp also said, “It’s not our best moment.”
Steele was clearly not mollified. “I’ve spent 41 years in this party. Forty-one. All right?” he told Schlapp. “I have taken crap you have no idea about, and I have carried this baggage. And for him to stand on that stage and denigrate my service to this party, and for you as a friend to sit there and go ‘Well, you have been critical of this party...’ There is only one word I can say, and I can’t say it on this air.”
“Say it,” Schlapp said.
“No, I can’t,” Steele responded. “Because the FCC won’t allow it.”
Watch Walters’s remarks, Reid’s interview with Steele, and Steele's discussion with Schlapp below.
WATCH: At the Ronald Reagan Dinner at CPAC, ACU Communications Director Ian Walters said the RNC hired Michael Steele as chairman in 2009 "because he’s a black guy." pic.twitter.com/g6YcyLET5w
— NBC News (@NBCNews) February 24, 2018